Donohoe abandons balanced budget strategy as housing policy bites


Budget announcements tend to be pretty boring business. Content is usually flagged in advance, and changes are usually the result of an existing strategy, albeit with some tweaking to reflect what has happened in the interim.

The Finance Department’s latest summer economic statement – which fell into the ether Wednesday night after a serious Cabinet feud over government spending – was an exception to the rule. This marked a radical change in the Coalition’s budgetary stance.

Just three months ago, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe signaled that the government would aim to achieve a balanced budget by 2025.

In the Stability Program Update, a budget document submitted to the European Commission in April, it forecasted a deficit of € 800 million for 2025 – to all intents and purposes a balanced budget.

The summer press release, however, puts the state on a whole different plane, envisioning a sequence of much larger deficits by 2025, resulting in a budget deficit of 7.4 billion euros in 2025, or 6 , 5 billion more than the initial objective.

The government also said it would borrow an additional € 18.8 billion over the next five years.

The announcement was quickly followed by a statement from the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), the state’s debt management agency, alerting markets and creditors that it was changing its 2021 funding range to take into account the government’s new budgetary position. Something had radically changed in the body politic.

Donohoe insisted that while large budget deficits were necessary to support the economy during the pandemic, there is now a need to impose some fiscal discipline. He continually points out that fiscal discipline before the pandemic is what allowed the great crisis to spend.

Now it rotates, not in the opposite direction, but in a different direction. So who cares? Budget arithmetic, fiscal space, is the dry part of the news cycle. This is not the case in this case, it goes to the very heart of politics.

Shock waves of by-elections

The fiscal shifting sands are directly linked to the housing crisis and the likely political fallout that awaits coalition parties if the dynamics do not change. This may have been motivated by Fianna Fáil’s poor result in the recent Dublin Bay South by-election.

The result sent shockwaves through Fianna Fáil and sparked a major dispute in Cabinet over the level of future government spending, and in particular the funds available for the government’s soon to be universal housing strategy. published.

Donohoe and Public Expenses Minister Michael McGrath Advocate for Budget Restraint While Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar Seek additional funds to tackle the problem and stop the political bleeding: An unusual cross-party clash between ministers and the ‘current and former taoisigh.

It is difficult to determine where the additional spending and borrowing in the summer’s economic statement is going. But the government is increasing its investment budget – which covers the housing budget – from € 9.8 billion this year to € 13.4 billion by 2025. Government investment spending has fallen to 3.4 billion euros in 2013.

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council – the state’s fiscal watchdog – has expressed concerns about the new projections, especially rising deficits and slowing the pace of debt reduction.

Ireland’s national debt will reach 280 billion euros by 2025, or 106% of modified gross national income (GNI *), one of the world’s highest debt levels per capita.

Return of the Piigs

Donohoe has said he wants to keep Ireland in the middle of the pack financially, in line with its semi-core status in eurozone bond markets. This type of debt level, however, brings us back to the Piig, an offensive acronym given to Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain following the eurozone debt crisis. in 2010.

Ifac’s point of view is that the government must be able to support the economy – as it does now – when the next crisis hits. Higher debt and deficit levels could complicate the task.

The government, of course, must balance this budgetary imperative with a very urgent national problem – housing – which is currently undermining its political position.

We haven’t seen the anti-globalization policy in other countries, the return to nation-state rhetoric, the anti-immigrant movements. But the inequality agenda that fuels much of it has started to emerge and housing is one of the key issues.

Sinn Féin’s nationalist and republican agenda has only gotten him so far, his scathing criticism of the government’s housing policy now has him on the verge of ruling. He overtook both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the last election – a result that would have been unthinkable five years ago.

The government’s previous housing strategy – Rebuilding Ireland – has absolutely failed to change the dynamics of housing and will be replaced in the coming weeks by the new Housing for All strategy. This funding apparently exceeded Donohoe’s balanced budget target.

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