The Government has been criticised by the Opposition for the cut in respite care grants announced in the Budget yesterday.

Speaking in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary said cuts could have been avoided by increasing tax on the wealthy.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald said the cut breached decency, and the Government needed to reverse it.

Minister Pat Rabbitte said core welfare payments were preserved, and a reduction in respite care was better than a cut in carers' allowance.

Minister for State Brian Hayes said he recognised that the 19% cut in the grant was a "drastic one" for people who depend on it.

He said he did not know whether the Government could revisit the decision and that he did not want a situation to develop where the Budget would start unravelling.

However, Mr Hayes told Newstalk radio that "if the Government has gotten something wrong, as we did last year, we'll amend it".

Meanwhile, over 100 family carers will stage a protest outside the Dáil tomorrow demanding the restoration of the grant.

A Carers' Association spokesperson said that since the Budget announcement, it had been inundated with calls from carers who are frightened and angry.

She added that many family carers are dependent on the respite grant, not just for a break, but to pay essential bills.

'Mean spirit'

Earler, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Budget was difficult and will impact on families across Ireland, but it is as fair and as equitable as possible.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said there was a mean spirit and lack of direction in the Budget, which was not due to the Troika.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin defended the decision to cut Child Benefit.

The cut was among the headline measures announced yesterday along with Property Tax, an increase in PRSI contributions and a €250 increase in third-level student fees.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, Mr Howlin said the decision was made to protect core payments, such as widow's pension and fuel allowances.

He said Child Benefit has been brought back to the level it was at a few years ago and that he understands people's frustration.

The minister said: "We made a decision, a conscious decision, coming into Government to try and fix a very broken economy and to do it with as much sensitivity, protecting the most vulnerable.

"That's why an absolute imperative of our work as a Government has been to protect the core social welfare payments."

What are the tax implications for you?

Speaking on the same programme, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan defended the increase in PRSI contributions.

Mr Noonan said the PRSI increase was good value for people on lower incomes as it guaranteed their benefits.

He said: "Somebody on low pay, somebody on €25,000, an extra €5 a week to replenish the social welfare fund, will guarantee their benefits, but particularly their contributory pension.

"It's about the best value for €5 anyone could ever get."

In relation to the Property Tax, Minister Noonan said that unlike the Household Charge, which many people refused to pay, Revenue would ensure this new tax was collected.

He said: "The Revenue know how to collect taxes and they are also being mandated to collect the Household Charge.

"They've already decided they will give people until (to) July to pay the Household Charge and then they'll double it. It will be a penalty of €200 and they'll collect it."

Tánaiste Eamon GIlmore earlier said Budget 2013 will be the toughest Ireland will have to endure, but insisted the vulnerable had been protected.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Gilmore said that €500m had been taken from the wealthy with the introduction of 14 new tax measures and that core social welfare payments had not been hit.

Mr Gilmore said people had endured a lot, but the country was 85% of the way out of austerity.

Day of shame for Labour - Ó Caoláin

Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described the Budget as a day of shame for the Labour Party.

Mr Ó Caoláin said the Government had hit those who had nothing left to give and said the Budget was a recipe for deeper poverty and poorer health.

He said: "What they (the measures) will do is to hit families who are already at breaking point and many of them are well beyond that.

"The fact of the matter is they've continued to take from the pockets of those who have nothing left to give."

Fianna Fáil's Seán Fleming described the Budget as an anti-employment Budget, as well as being anti-women.

He said: "PRSI changes are going to cost €300m and that's a tax on employment. That's taking €300m from employers and employees."

Fine Gael Minister of State Fergus O'Dowd said that the Budget was tough, but was aimed at getting people back in employment.

Price rises for cigarettes and alcohol

The prices of alcohol and tobacco increased today after the first of the measures contained in the Budget were passed by the Dáil last night.

TDs also passed changes to Vehicle Registration Tax and VAT.

However, the Government could still face problems next week when the Social Welfare Bill is introduced, which includes the cuts in Child Benefit and increases in PRSI.