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Snippet Contents:

Budget 2017 is the first budget of this new partnership Government. This is a different type of Government but it is one that is committed to combining all our different talents to build a strong economy in order to deliver a fair society. This budget reflects the issues that are most important to our people and the future of our country. Firstly, it will not jeopardise our recent economic progress by taking reckless risks. While our economy is recovering, that recovery has not been felt in every community or by every family. We must ensure that the right decisions are taken so that the benefits of a strong economy and a fair society can be felt by everybody.
Secondly, the years ahead will be dominated by the upcoming negotiations on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and its impact on our economy and society. The Government was prepared for that eventuality and now we must continue to take action to lessen the impact as much as we can. Related to this is our absolute need to get Ireland working again. While we have made huge progress in creating new jobs, there are still too many people out of work. Continuing to reduce unemployment, with a special focus on regional and rural development, is a top priority.
Thirdly, this budget will continue to use the fruits of a recovering economy to make our people's lives better. New funding and initiatives in health, education, policing, child care and social welfare will make a positive impact on the daily lives of everyone living in Ireland, young and old.
Finally, one of the biggest economic and social problems is the continuing lack of available housing following on from the crash in the construction industry. This budget provides significant funding to many of the measures outlined in the Government's action plan for housing.
The approach to the preparation of this budget has also been very different and it has been more open, inclusive and transparent than ever before. I commend the Ministers, Deputies Noonan and Donohoe, for their work along with all Government Ministers in designing a package that helps to address many of the challenges we face. In designing this budget, there has never been so much consultation, and I commend all those who engaged constructively in that process.
This year we conducted the second national economic dialogue, published some of the key budgetary inputs, including strategy papers on tax, and engaged more deeply and widely with others. The Oireachtas has rightly become a much more significant participant, including through the work of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight established in July. I expect that the committee will play a significant role in the years to come.
While the budget is a significant milestone for this Government and this Oireachtas, it is only a step, although an important step, in the ongoing journey of a healing that we are taking as a people. To make sure that we all get to that destination together, we will not contemplate any reckless risks that might derail us. In a week in which we have seen sharp volatility in foreign exchange rates, this budget needs to acknowledge the uncertain international environment in which Ireland now finds itself. As a consequence, the Government's commitment to the sound management of the public finances remains absolute. Economic and social progress go hand in hand, but only a strong economy, supporting people at work, can pay for the services needed to create that fair society. As a country, we can continue to draw strength from the progress we have made. Our economy is growing at a healthy rate, reflected in strong tax returns, increased domestic demand, growing consumer spending and new jobs. We expect to grow at about 4.2% this year, well ahead of our European partners. The public deficit is set to be under 1% this year and we plan to eliminate it altogether in 2018. From a high of 120% in 2012, our debt-to-GDP ratio now stands at 79%, and we will continue to move closer to the new goal set by the Minister for Finance of 45%. It is true that GDP, deficit and debt figures mean little to families who struggle to cope with financial pressures, but we need to avoid at all cost the cycle of boom and bust which devastated our country and split families to the far corners of the world.