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Prospect of October Budget welcomed amid calls for more open process

Budget 2013 is less than a week old but already thoughts are turning to Budget 2014 and the possibility it could be held earlier than December next year.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THOUGH THE MEASURES announced for Budget 2013 are barely a week old talk has already begun in relation to Budget 2014 which could be held as early as October of next year under new EU rules.

As a way of ensuring that eurozone governments adhere to the Fiscal Compact treaty, the so-called ‘two pack’ proposes that countries submit their budgets for assessment by various European bodies before they are passed in the national parliaments.

A common-budgetary timeline for all eurozone members would see member states submitting their draft budget plans for the following year to the European Commission and the Eurogrpup before 15 October to ensure that they do not break deficit rules.

As Ireland prepares to take the EU presidency in the new year it is likely that the ‘two pack’ process will be further progressed, opening up the possibility of either a draft budget being made public in October or the Budget itself being held then.

Last week, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said there was a risk in presenting a draft budget in October: “I’m not too sure our system would sustain a draft budget announced in October, and everybody ganging up to stop it between then and December.”

‘Some sort of joke’

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly strongly criticised Noonan for these comments, saying that the Dáil was being treated with “contempt” by Noonan and his Cabinet colleague, Brendan Howlin.

“I find his attitude pathetic, what they’re saying is the Dáil is a joke,” he told TheJournal.ie, adding: “Is parliament mature enough to debate the finances of the nation? Let’s find out. Let’s stop treating parliament like it’s some sort of joke.”

Both of the main opposition parties identified an earlier budget as being beneficial for the retail sector which has in recent years complained about the impact the December budget is having on its business.

Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said that an earlier budget “does have benefits”.

He told TheJournal.ie: “For the retail sector a budget in December for their busiest time of the year is terrible and dampens consumerism. It’s not good for the business community.”

But he said that the main issue for his party was the need for a “proper discussion in relation to the Budget”.

“That’s been lacking for many years,” he continued. “This is probably the worst year of all when not even the Cabinet ministers knew what the Budget was until the four wise men allowed it to be released to them.”

Doherty was referring to the government’s Economic Management Council of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Finance Minister and the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister.

Policy options

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said that he was open to the possibility of an earlier budget but identified the risks of holding it earlier in the year when all the economic data for that year is unavailable.

He also said: “The risk in bringing it forward to early involves increasing the risk of a supplementary budget being brought in the following year.”

This has already happened in relation to the health budget. Both finance spokespersons said that the government should present policy options in draft form which could be debated in the Dáil in the run-up to a budget.

The Department of Finance said last week in a statement: “The Budgetary process will also be adapted to take account of developments at European level and in particular the agreement of regulations relating to the two-pack and the six pack which seek, among other objectives, to bring in a common budgetary timeline across the Union.”

It also said that there are no plans at present to move the Budget to a different time of the year but said it was committed to “reforming the budgetary process”.

Donnelly added that in formulating his own pre-Budget submissions this year he found the process easier than last year, citing the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure (CRE), produced by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as an aide.

“It’s a bit better,” he said. “When I was putting my budget submission together, the most useful document was the CRE and Howlin in fairness to him is trying to bring in a new information.”

Read: Ministers say December Budgets could be a thing of the past

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Hugh O'Connell

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