Tuesday morning saw Minister for Finance Paschal Donoghue give his first address to the Dáil, bringing with him the release of the 2018 Irish Budget. There were few surprises to be seen compared to last year, as Donoghue stated that overall expenditure voted for would come to €60.9 billion for the year. Social welfare payments increased by €5, while the point at which income tax increased to 40% went up by €750, to €34,550. The cap on prescription charges for those with a medical card was lowered to €2 per item, and the monthly cap lowered from €25 to €20. Cigarettes and tobacco have gone up by 50c, with a pack of 20 cigarettes on average now €12 on average, and a 30g pack of tobacco now €15, however alcohol duties remain unchanged.
Alongside this, a sugar tax was introduced, with the budget stating “the tax will apply to sugar sweetened drinks with a sugar content between 5 grams and 8 grams per 100ml at a rate of 20c per litre”, or “for drinks with a sugar content of 8 grams or above at 30c per litre.”
It is the education spending, however, that will be discussed in the months to come. While second-level education has seen an increase of around 2,200 jobs, with over a thousand of them going to Special Needs Assistants, controversially, very little has changed at third level. Of the €47.5 million extra being allocated to the National Levy, only €2 million will be going to higher education initiatives, the rest going to a broad range of training schemes such as apprenticeships.
Among the opponents of the budget were the members of the grassroots organisation “Students Against Fees” (SAF), who released a statement on the proposed changes to third level funding within the budget: “Education is a public good, and decisions as to its future should be made in consultation with students and academics, not commercial entities.” Addressing the €3,000 student contribution charge in place, they stated that “Today’s budget does not address this financial burden on students, and leaves in place an inequitable barrier to education.”
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have also expressed over the proposed expenditure. USI President John Kerrigan stated outside the Dáil that “No income-contingent student loans were announced today, but neither was any meaningful new funding model on how third-level education should be funded”. He continued, saying “there is no financial support in terms grants for students announced today. With the cost of living soaring, SUSI grant thresholds needed to be adjusted to allow middle income earners to be able to access the SUSI grant scheme more”.
In a statement to the University Observer, UCDSU Education Officer Robert Sweeney wrote on the impact the budget will have for third-level education: “It is becoming more and more clear that Irish universities such as UCD will now begin to seriously consider extreme methods of increasing their funding such as limiting the places for domestic students in favour of higher fee-paying international students” Mr. Sweeney closed by writing “Budget 2018 was not a budget for students, much like the current Dáil, it was a do-nothing budget, taking little risks and doing little to benefit Irish Society.”