25th Feb 2021

Dublin unveils radical austerity programme

The Irish government has unveiled a far-reaching austerity package with sweeping cuts and tax hikes in an effort to meet the tough conditions of an €85 billion EU-IMF bail-out plan, an architecture of adjustment that will radically alter the very structure of how the country is run.

It is a plan that will hit every citizen and sector of the Irish economy, but will hit working people, students and low-income earners the hardest, a move that has already provoked both a deep fury from many but also a bitter resignation amongst others.

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  • The spending cuts and tax rises will total €15 billon over four years (Photo: BOSSoNe0013)

Key measures include a slashing of welfare benefits, a hiking and broadening of income taxes, a sharp increase in university fees, the imposition of property taxes and water charges.

Dublin hopes to save €15 billion over the next four years, including €10 billion in cuts and €5 billion in new taxes and other sources of revenue. The shocking sums come atop a total of €14.6 billion in austerity measures introduced in the wake of the wider economic crisis.

Crucially, the government has ignored advice from some quarters that cuts in the middle of a recession will only deepen the pain and abandoned all hope that domestic spending can be a driver of a return to growth, instead placing all its bets on improving the climate for export-oriented businesses.

"As Ireland is a small, open economy, our economic recovery will be export-led. This plan stimulates exports, increasing productivity and rebuilding competitiveness," the government said in a statement.

The plan forecasts economic growth of 2.75 percent of GDP on average over 2011-2014, and hopes this will result in the creation of some 90,000 new jobs.

Dublin appears to have won the day against pressure from other EU member states and the commission that it hike its ultra-low corporation tax of 12.5 percent, calling the rate "a cornerstone of our industrial policy".

Acquiescing to an IMF demand that labour costs be slashed, pay for minimum wage earners will be reduced by a full 12 percent, higher than the 10 percent that had been predicted, from €8.65 an hour to €7.65.

Low-income earners have in recent years enjoyed considerable relief from income tax, with as many as 45 percent of employees not paying at all. This era has come to an end, with income tax from now on to be applied on all who earn over €15,300 a year, down from the current €18,300. The government hopes to raise an additional €1.9 billion this way.

VAT will also be jacked up a total of two percent, spread over the last two years of the four-year package, while water charges will be introduced by 2014.

Social welfare spending is to be lacerated by €2.8 billion and student 'registration fees' will climb from €1,500 to €2000, an adjustment of 33 percent. The figure is not as high however as had been feared, with early reports suggesting a doubling to €3,000.

The cuts in 2011 will be worth some four percent of GDP and over the four-year period, equivalent to a full 11 percent.

As part of the cuts to spending, public service staff levels will be reduced by 24,750 positions and salary adjustments, including a 10 percent pay cut and a new pension scheme for fresh hires, will shave off €1.2 billion in costs over the next four years.

Property owners will now be subject to a tax for the first time, to be initiated in 2012, and business owners will be slapped with a local services levy.

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