The first Budget of the Fine Gael – Independents’ Partnership Government provides €58 Billion in funding – €53.5 billion in current spending and €4.5 billion in capital – across various departments and services.
Furthermore, Budget 2017 provides the Health Service and the Department of Education with their highest ever allocations in the history of the State.
On taxation, each of the lower three USC rates are being reduced by 0.5% returning €350 million to lower and middle income earners. A €400 increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit will bring the total exemption to €950, which is a further step along the road to equalising the tax treatment of self-employed workers with PAYE earners. Inheritance tax thresholds are also being increased to make it easier to transfer property from parents to children.
For the first time in eight years payments for a number of groups have been increased. These include carers, persons with disabilities, one parent families, jobseekers and widows – all receive €5 week extra. In addition, the Christmas bonus will be paid at a rate of 85% of the standard weekly payment.
The Budget also provides major increases in supports for self-employed workers including invalidity pension, and optical and dental benefits as well as increase of €33 per week in Back to Education allowance for persons aged under 26.
On childcare, the Government is making substantial investment with Budget 2017. Parents of a child between 6 and 36 months in full time formal child care will receive support to the value of €960 per year. There will also be a targeted subsidy scheme for low to middle income parents with children between 6 months and 15 years. This announcement is in addition to the steps already taken to help parents get back to work. Last month we rolled out a second free year of the Early Childhood Care and Education Scheme (ECCE) and introduced two weeks of paternity leave.
Galway schools will benefit from the recruitment of an extra 2,400 teachers, 900 resource teachers and 115 SNAs nationally in 2017.
NUIG and GMIT will benefit from the extra €160m that is being invested in higher education. This includes a new full maintenance grant for 1,100 postgraduate students, funding for ‘New Frontiers Research’ and expansion of the Governments apprenticeship plan.
Having raised the issue with Minister Richard Bruton, I can confirm that Budget 2017 allocates funding to provide all one-teacher schools on islands with an additional teacher.
To support Galway’s farming families, the Government will develop a low interest, flexible loan scheme (below 3%/annum) to help farmers with cash flow and short term borrowing; introduce changes to income tax, VAT and Capital Gains Tax which will help farmers in a difficult year as will the changes to the Farm Assist means test.
Also of benefit to Galway’s rural communities are the extra 500 places on Rural Social Schemes, the new €25 million Animal Welfare Scheme for Sheep and the extra €60 million funding for the GLAS scheme, increasing participants to 50,000.
To tackle the immense housing challenge almost €100m for emergency accommodation for homeless people is being provided. An additional €105m for the Housing Assistance Programme will enable 15,000 extra households to avail of the scheme. The Rent-a-room scheme improvement increases the tax-free income to householder to €14,000 per annum while the tax rebate of €20,000 for first-time buyers of newly built houses will encourage the construction of new homes.
Funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 extra Gardaí and up to 500 civilians to support the Garda Siochana. By 2021 the Garda force should comprise 21,000 including 15,000 Gardaí, 2000 Garda Reserves and 4000 civilians.
Other investment being provided through Budget 2017 are the 20,000 new school places through to be achieved through construction of new school buildings, the €15m to progress the roll-out of the National Broadband Scheme to provide high-speed broadband to Rural Ireland, and the €44m package for flood-relief schemes amongst other measures.
While we cannot do everything in one Budget, we will have more resources to address the various challenges in our society as the economy and employment continue to grow under the sound management of this Government. Thanks to the careful economic management of recent years we now have the resources to target investments in key public services that will make a real difference to people and families in Galway and Mayo.