Government 'propping up economy at all costs'
Published 21/09/2010 | 14:04
Irish people have been abandoned by political leaders intent on propping up the economy at all costs, a leading campaigner said today.
Social Justice Ireland director Father Sean Healy warned the safety net of health, education, pensions and other vital benefits is in danger of coming apart.
Speaking at the organisation's conference on the welfare state, Fr Healy said the Government needs to start focusing on people rather than the financial system.
"People should be served by the economy, not the economy being served by people," he said.
"What the Government has been doing, for the past 40 years, is completely abandoning the people in this country and making decisions that support the economy."
Fr Healy said Ireland is the worst spender on social provision in the European Union, after Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, when taken as a percentage of the value of the economy.
"If we are going to continue on that route it means, in effect, there won't be good social services in Ireland in health, education, welfare, social housing, pensions and so on," he said.
"We have to get out of this situation and the way to get out of it is to increase the overall tax take."
Fr Healy stressed that does not mean increasing income tax rates but rather making the better-off pay a fairer share towards state coffers.
Corporate taxes and tax breaks aimed at the well-heeled are among the measures Social Justice Ireland wants to see overhauled.
In particular, Fr Healy said the wealthy are not paying their fair share of tax.
"Eighty per cent of tax breaks for pensions goes to the wealthiest 20pc in our society," he said.
"So that's a tax break that benefits the wealthy and it's not a fair tax break.
"The Government is proposing to not touch that but instead bring low-paid workers - already in poverty - into the tax net."
Fr Healy said there are huge concerns over the future of the welfare system while tens of billions of euro are being poured into banks.
In a warning to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan ahead of December's Budget, he said short-term decisions that may appear positive can have huge negative long-term effects.
Unless the financing of the welfare system is properly addressed, services may only be able to be accessed in future by the better-off in society, according to the campaigner.
"That will create a situation where we have an economy, but people are broke - particularly those who are not wealthy and those who are vulnerable," he said.