The Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, has outlined his Budget provisions to the Dáil.

The minister announced social welfare increases, higher thresholds for paying tax, a five-year childcare package, and a reform of tax reliefs to prevent the phenomenon of tax-free millionaires.

In a speech that was longer than usual, Mr Cowen identified two major aims for his second Budget - maintaining economic growth, and improving equality and opportunity for all in society.

In terms of social welfare, he announced a €1.1 billion package of increases, including an extra €14 per week for the contributory old age pension; €16 per week on the non-contributory pension; and €17 per week for all other personal social welfare rates.

€150 million is to be spent on developing care for older people in their homes or communities, while a new five-year strategy for childcare will be funded by €319 million next year, rising to over €600 million a year by 2008.

This programme will create an extra 50,000 childcare places, while the parents of every child under the age of six will get a new payment of €1,000 a year.

Meanwhile, paid maternity leave is to be increased by four weeks next year, while unpaid leave will be increased by eight weeks over the next two years.

In a tax relief package of €900 million, all those on the current minimum wage will be taken out of the tax net altogether, while all those on the average industrial wage will only pay the standard rate.

Tax reliefs are to be capped for those with an income over €250,000,while tax relief for horse and greyhound stud fee incomes will end in July 2008.

The main excises and VAT rates are to remain unchanged, but excise duty on home heating oil is to be halved from midnight tonight, while betting duty is being halved from 2% to 1% from 1 July next.

For further Budget 2006 coverage click here.