Wednesday marked the return of the Dáil from its summer recess with its first major act being to debate a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney over his involvement in the now abandoned appointment of ex-children minister, Katherine Zappone, as a UN Special Envoy. As anticipated, the Government won its counter-motion of confidence in the Minister comfortably, by a majority of 92 votes to 59 votes despite the resignation of Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry from his parliamentary party over the matter. MacSharry has been a long-time critic of Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s leadership of the party.
With the motion of confidence now out of the way, the hope in Government will be that focus will return to their policy agenda between now and Christmas.
In October, the Government is set to publish its revised Climate Action Plan and carbon budget, which will propose changes “at a scale beyond compare”, according to Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan. The plan will outline how ambitious emissions reduction plans set out in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, passed earlier this year, will be achieved.
The past month has already seen the publication of the Housing for All plan which the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, welcomed as the “most ambitious programme of social and affordable housing delivery in the history of the State”. Ambitious policy plans like these require investment and Budget 2022 will chart a path to realising the Government’s key policy targets.
However, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) has expressed concern about the Government’s budget plans in its pre-budget assessment. Chief issues raised include the need for the Government to “prioritise between its plans for significant expansions in public investment, fast increases in current spending and a desire to simultaneously cut taxes”, warning that “expanding all areas at once […] is effectively evading difficult choices and slowing the return of debt ratios to safer levels”.
Indeed, the IFAC accepted that Government plans to increase “investment spending should help […] address pressures in areas such as housing and climate change”, but “the speed and timing of the ramp-up carries risks and the Government should plan to eventually bring investment down to more normal levels”.
Overall, the IFAC expressed concern that the Government’s July Summer Economic Statement “lacks key details” and noted a lack of clarity on whether the Government’s intention to run much larger deficits in the coming years would comply with EU and domestic fiscal rules.
Undoubtedly, there will be an increased onus on the Government to ensure that October’s 2022 budget marries its significant short-term objectives with long-term sustainable planning that reduces the risks alluded to in the IFAC’s pre-budget assessment. Particularly as it simultaneously grapples with the need to invest in lofty policy ambitions and targets and in people and businesses who still require significant COVID-19 supports.