DUBLIN (Reuters) -Ireland’s deeply unpopular government will unveil a record austerity budget on Tuesday, inflicting more pain on voters in a bid to impress the IMF and EU and ensure quick access to rescue funds.
Prime Minister Brian Cowen — who has promised to call an election once the legislation underpinning the budget is passed — is expected to get his fiscal plan through parliament but getting the budget passed is not a straightforward affair.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan will unveil the plan at 1545 GMT in parliament and the lower chamber will vote on the first changes this week and on two more next week. However a fourth and final vote can take up to four months to organize.
If a vote on the financial resolutions later on Tuesday failed it would trigger a general election, a rewriting of the budget by the next government and shelve the IMF/EU bailout until a new administration’s plan was in place.
Below are details of the bills and resolutions that must be passed to fully implement the budget:
The lower-house will initially vote, later on Tuesday, on measures that need to be implemented immediately such as changes to excise duties and sales taxes. There could be some 20 resolutions — grouped into 5 or 6 batches — meaning deputies are unlikely to leave the chamber much before midnight.
The financial resolutions are seen as the least vulnerable area for a government defeat. However Ireland’s brief 1981-82 government fell on budget night after then finance minister and future Prime Minister John Bruton unsuccessfully attempted to tax children’s shoes.
The social welfare bill — the second piece of legislation the government must pass — will be sped through parliament this week so that a vote can be taken next week. The bill will be put in front of the lower and upper house and may also be referred to a select committee but the vote is unlikely to be unduly delayed.
As the bill deals with social welfare and pension matters, the vote could test the resolve of frustrated backbench MPs but they are still expected to pass the measures.
VOTE THREE: FINANCIAL EMERGENCY MEASURES IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST BILL
Government ministers have flagged that civil servants’ pensions will likely be in the firing line, meaning a separate bill would need to be introduced to put these measures into law.
Space has been reserved in the lower-house diary to debate this on Thursday and Friday, with a vote therefore likely by next week.
The final vote will put taxation matters introduced in the budget into law. If this bill failed to pass it would trigger a general election.
The finance bill must go through all stages in parliament within four months, however Prime Minister Brian Cowen has indicated it could be voted on sometime in February to pave the way for parliamentary elections.
Opposition parties will push for faster passage and junior government partners the Greens have called for an election to be held in the second half of January so Cowen will be put under pressure to move the measures through as quickly as possible.
Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Carmel Crimmins