Time to end secrecy and silence and open up budgetary process

Posted September 7th, 2012
Today I stated that the Government should move to establish a select Oireachtas committee to examine all possible budgetary measures being considered by Departments for next year’s budget.

It’s time to end all the speculation and to have an open and honest debate about the choices facing government departments as we approach this most difficult of budgets. There is too much speculation in the public, because of the information vacuum, and it causing too much uncertainty.

This Government committed in the Programme for Government to opening up the budgetary process ‘to the full glare of public scrutiny’. Last December I asked Minister Howlin in the Public Accounts Committee about reforming the process, to which he replied that ‘the notion of someone coming into the Chamber to read out the secrets decided by Cabinet is crazy. We need to have much more public debate about the process.’ It is time now to honour these commitments.

The new committee could begin by meeting with the independent Fiscal Advisory Council, established by this government to independently help guide the budgetary process, and proceed from there, examining all issues: possible tax increases, reductions in social welfare, proposals for the property tax, the opportunity cost of the Croke Park agreement – there can be no more sacred cows in this debate. Choices being faced by Ministers should be considered, as well as possible alternatives that are seen to be ‘no-go’ areas.

Ministers Noonan and Howlin will make their decisions, but the Dail and the people should be allowed to see what the alternatives are. This should help the Government in its work, particularly when people see the stark choices facing us. Already this year the State has spent €11.3 billion more than it has earned and at the moment the proposed correction for next year is €3.5 billion. This is not going to be easy, but we can help guide everyone through the process.

The budget for 2013 and the measures to be contained therein will be too serious to simply announce on the day, as has happened before. No TD, on the Government benches or otherwise, can be expected to vote on budgetary measures that they have only seen that morning for the first time, or in the immediate run-up to the budget.