Tuesday 21 October 2014

High earners in sights of Labour leadership rivals

Burton looks to pay hikes while White favours a wealth tax as candidates seek to win votes

DANIEL McCONNELL and JOHN DRENNAN

Published 15/06/2014 | 02:30

Labour Party leadership candidates Alex White and Joan Burton. Photo: Tony Gavin

LABOUR leadership candidates traded blows on issues such as wealth taxes, pay hikes for the low-paid and the prospect of a deal with Sinn Fein at a trade union organised face-off yesterday.

Several hundred trade union and Labour Party members gathered to hear the two leadership candidates – Joan Burton and Alex White – set out their vision for the future of the party, which is languishing at just 4 per cent in the latest opinion polls.

At what was the second hustings of the four-week campaign which will conclude on July 4, both Burton and White said they favoured targeting high-income earners in order to ensure they pay their fair share.

Burton said a wage-level recovery was now required in Ireland for low-income workers, and promised the establishment of a low-pay commission to address what she called the "stagnation of low pay".

White again said he supported the introduction of a wealth tax, but did not provide any details of how this would actually work.

He did say that a wealth tax "must be a fundamental principle and Labour must push it", and promised that, if elected, he would not stand over any further cuts to the education, social welfare and health budgets in October.

White also said that the Budget adjustment did not need to be "anywhere near" €2bn in order to hit the 3 per cent deficit target.

On the issue of Sinn Fein, Joan Burton said there were unanswered questions about the Sinn Fein-IRA axis and that people were entitled to ask those questions. She said that Sinn Fein must fully address the issues of their past and posed the question.

She asked: "Do they support a campaign of the murder of gardai?"

White again said he could not rule out any potential coalition partner including Sinn Fein. "I am not in agreement with excluding anyone, we should not rule in or rule out," he said.

White said that the party had mistakes in Government and said that outgoing Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore would himself admit that mistakes had been made.

The meeting also heard from the the four candidates contesting the race for the position of deputy leader.

During the debates many delegates laughed with a sense of irony that microphones at the hustings kept cutting out, given the event was being held at the Communications Workers' Union building.

Junior Transport Minister Alan Kelly said that defending the party's role in Government has been "difficult and exhausting".

Cork TD Michael McCarthy, who is the current chairman of the Environment Committee, said he would welcome a return to what he called a sustainable social partnership.

Separately, speculation is growing that one wing of the Labour dream team of Joan Burton and Alan Kelly may be struggling.

Kelly appears to be losing ground to Cork TD Michael McCarthy. Since Kelly is all but assured of a Cabinet seat, were McCarthy to be elected, Joan Burton would be faced with serious difficulties when it comes to the formation of a new Cabinet.

One Labour insider said: ''Joan is going to be very short of jobs if Michael wins, given that Kathleen Lynch and Alan Kelly have to be in Cabinet, there could be no space for Alex.

"McCarthy is coming in under the radar; don't forget McCarthy has been on two Seanad campaigns, no-one knows the front-line troops better."

Sunday Independent

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