A special Cabinet meeting was being held at Government buildings last night to finalise the measures to be introduced in the Budget aimed at reducing public spending by €2.5bn.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was too early to say whether or not Ireland needed a backstop arrangement or financial safety net after the country exits its bailout programme on 15 December.
Earlier today, he said the Government has no intention of changing the 12.5% corporation tax rate as it is a cornerstone of the economy.
Tonight’s meeting was focused on the health and social protection departments.
Ahead of the meeting, Minister for Health James Reilly described as wild speculation reports that there will be a €400m overrun in the health budget this year, adding that it was less than €200m.
He said the department has taken €3.3bn out of the Health budget over the last number of years and staff numbers have been reduced by 10% in the face of an 8% growth in the population since 2006.
In the past year, he said, there was a 3% increase in emergency department admissions and 80% of hospital admissions come through emergency departments.
Mr Reilly said there is a huge increase in demand, but with reducing budgets and reducing staffing.
“You can’t keep going down the road when the water level is rising up the road against you”, he said.
The minister said his department is “doing more with less, an awful lot more with less”.
In January 2011 “we had 569 people suffering on trolleys in this country.
“Yesterday the figure was 79, we’ve made huge progress”, he said.
On free GP care for under-fives being introduced in the next year, the minister said he is a strong supporter on making this available, but it would be a Cabinet decision.
He said it is a tough decision and “we have increasing demand, reducing budgets, reducing staff”.
More medical cards than ever
Mr Reilly said that there are now “more medical cards than we’ve ever had in the history of the State” with more people than ever before covered for free GP care.
He said that while 1,000 people with discretionary medical cards lost them during the year, 23,000 others were migrated to full medical cards.
The minister said he will be meeting the Health Service Executive to make sure people have not fallen through the cracks.
The medical card scheme “never operated on the basis of an illness” but was based on income, the illness and the hardship that may bring in ability to pay, he said.
Mr Reilly said there has been no change in policy in relation to medical cards.
The minister said if there were a change he would have to go to Dáil Éireann with new regulations and lay them before the chamber.
The Government’s spending plans for next year will be revealed on Tuesday afternoon in the Dáil.
Mr Kenny last night hinted there will be some good news in the Budget but it will also be tough.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said the Budget will cut €2.5bn rather than the projected €3.1bn with agreement of the Troika.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he hoped final agreement could be reached on the Budget at the meeting.
Much work has been done over the weekend but the final stage of the budget process can often be difficult, he said.