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Stream provided by HEAnet, Ireland’s National Education and Research network.

In the past few minutes Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has finished delivering the first part of this year’s Budget, outlining the details of cuts for next year.

Now, we’re going to hear reaction from three government ministers on how the cuts will affect their departments: first we’ll have Joan Burton on Social Protection at 3.15 (running slightly late already), followed by James Reilly on Health at 3.45 and finally Brendan Howlin again at 4.30.

First press conference is due to begin any moment now.

Joan starts her press conference now by saying that she had been unhappy with the original level of cuts required in the Department of Social Protection. Instead, she limited the amount of cuts to the department to €475 million – or just over 2 per cent of the total department spend.

Joan says that primary social welfare payments will not be cut in order to protect families and individuals from “the worst consequences of this very deep recession”.

That means a whole rake of benefits – Jobseeker’s Benefit and Allowance, Disability Alloance, Carer’s Benefit and Allowance, State Pensions and One Parent Family Payments – will not be reduced next year.

The Minister re-iterates the point that child benefit will remain unchanged at €140. There will be no reduction for the first and second child – just the third child.

She compares the rate of Jobseekers Allowance and Benefit to that in Northern Ireland, says it’s much higher here in the Republic.

She says that Michael Noonan in his speech tomorrow will talk about widening the PRSI base in order to help plug the hole in the Social Insurance Fund.

This is interesting: Joan says that the country should gradually move towards a system where EVERYONE should have an entitlement to one weekly income support payment.

This is known as Basic Income – it’s something some groups (such as Social Justice Ireland) have been pushing for for several years.

JB: “It is no longer possible to have a social welfare system where some people get more than one primary weekly payment”.

JB: Winter fuel allowance will be payable for 26 weeks – six weeks less than it usually is.

JB: I am increasing the minimum contribution to rent or mortgage interest supplement by €6 a week for a single person and €12  a week for a couple. This is consistent with the Keane Report on Mortgage Arrears.

JB: There will be a number of changes to the One Parent Family Payment scheme. This scheme cost €1.1 billion in 2010 – up from €751 million in 2005.

However despite the level of spending, the results have been poor “in terms of tackling poverty and social inclusion”.

JB is taking questions from journalists now.

She is asked what happened to her proposal on sick leave – she says it is “an argument and an issue which will be addressed during 2012″. She says Michael Noonan will discuss it tomorrow in his speech, but emphasises that Ireland is very different from other countries in how it currently calculates and pays for sick leave for employees.

On an aside: the opposition speeches are still going on in the Dáil – you can follow what’s happening here on our other liveblog.

Interesting move by the government to schedule these ministerial press conferences at exactly the same time as the opposition is giving its reaction…

Joan has finished up now. Minister for Health James Reilly is the next government minister who’ll be rolled out to talk about how the cuts will affect his department. Reilly was due to start at 3.45pm but as you’ve probably already noticed, things are running a bit behind schedule already…

*taps fingers on keyboard waiting for James Reilly to start his part of the press conference*

While we’re waiting, you can check out the main bullet points from Howlin’s announcement this afternoon (or see it in a wordcloud if you’re so inclined).  Stephen Donnelly is currently giving the opposition reaction to Howlin’s announcement here.

Finally! Just when we were beginning to give up all hope!

So we have our line-up. Minister for Health James Reilly in the centre, Minister of State at the Department of Health Róisin Shortall and, in a slightly unexpected move, the Secretary General of the Department of Health.

Reilly starts by explaining how his department needs to find €543 million worth of savings.

Reilly: “It’s going to be an extremely challenging year”.

Róisín Shortall is giving some more detail about the government wants to reform frontline services in the health system. She seems more prepared than Reilly, who just gave a very brief run down of how difficult it had been to make cuts but emphasised that they’d been necessary.

Little shout out there from the government press office who’s hosting the conference: “There are quite a lot of people watching this on the internet…” (THAT’S US!). He asks the journalists at the conference to ask their questions into the microphones so that us lot watching on our computers can follow. How thoughtful.

James Reilly: I put my hand up and say that patient services WILL be affected next year.

One journalist – possibly health analyst Sara Burke – says that there’s very little detail or figures in any of the information that’s been given out.

James Reilly: Mental health and disability spend generally is down 2 per cent – but separately there has been €35 million ringfenced particularly for mental health, and this won’t be affected by the 2 per cent cut.

James Reilly: The prescription charge is “something which I had hoped to discontinue,” but in light of the current economic situation there were discussions about actually increasing it – so instead it will be just maintained for the time being.

Two departments down, one to go. Just waiting for Howlin now…

And here we go. Howlin starts by focusing on reform, as Reilly, Shortall and Burton all did before him.

Howlin reiterates what Joan Burton said earlier about moving towards a single social welfare payment of some kind for everyone. This is quite a big step for the government – it was mooted at one stage by FF in the mid 2000s but this government had only ever mentioned it briefly over the past few years.

Harry McGee of the Irish Times asks Brendan Howlin if the proposal to cut child benefit was the potential ‘medical card’ moment for this Budget and that’s why it was shelved.

Howlin: “As a Labour Minister, I don’t want to reduce any social spending”. He doesn’t go into detail about when/why the decision was taken not to cut child benefit.

Justin MacCarthy of Today FM asks Howlin about the cuts in social welfare and why they ended up being several hundred million less than originally mooted. He asks if there was pressure within Labour to not cut as much.

Howlin: “There’s no-one in either party who wants to cut basic social provision. No-one has an appetite for that. We do what is necessary to meet the targets that are there”.

And Howlin has finished. There was nothing startling in the press conferences from any of the Ministers – a lot of it focused on how the cuts aren’t as bad as had been mooted in the many leaks before today’s announcement – but the focus was on making many small cuts across a lot of different areas.

If you’re still hungry for Budget stories, here’s how Twitter reacted to today’s Budget announcement, more about how the student registration fee is going up by a one-off fee of €250 and criticisms of the government for hitting child benefit and pensions for widows. Thanks for reading.

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