This Government is committed to tackling Ireland's economic crisis in a way that is fair, balanced, and which recognises the need for social solidarity. The appropriate level of overall expenditure by my Department will be considered by the Government in the context of Budget 2013 and subsequent Budgets. This consideration will be informed by the commitment in the Programme for Government to maintain social welfare rates.
Sustainable public finances are a pre-requisite for future economic stability and growth, as well as being a pre-requisite for maintaining and developing our social protection system. The Government's priority is to secure economic recovery, promote growth and employment and to enhance international credibility. The Government's target is to return to the 3% General Government Deficit over a period of time as required by the Stability and Growth Pact. To this end, the State must pursue a determined deficit reduction strategy. Accordingly, there will be an on-going requirement to curtail expenditure in 2013 and in later years. There are, therefore, considerable challenges ahead including the need to protect, as far as possible, the key income supports and services operated by my Department. These services and supports impact in some way on the lives of almost every single person in the State. The scope and scale of this expenditure plays a key role in the wider economy and helps to partially offset the effect of the downturn.
Looking ahead to Budget 2013, I will be holding a pre-Budget forum in the autumn to which I will be inviting a wide range of welfare organisations. I will listen carefully to their submissions in relation to the next Budget.