Friday 15 December 2017

'Boom and Bert days' have gone, insists Tanaiste

Labour conference told tax burden will be eased when finances permit

SPEAK SOFTLY: Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and TD Gerald Nash yesterday. Photo: Laura Hutton
SPEAK SOFTLY: Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and TD Gerald Nash yesterday. Photo: Laura Hutton

Michael Brennan and John Drennan

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore is planning to take more people out of the universal social charge (USC) net and increase income tax bands to relieve the pressure on hard-pressed families.

But any changes will likely be in the final year of Government due to the pressure to bring the deficit down to 3 per cent of national income by next year.

A senior Labour source said there was a willingness to look at taking more people out of the USC.

Labour previously raised the exemption level from €4,004 to €10,036 two years ago to take out 330,000 low-income earners.

And the party is also going to consider changing the point at which people pay the highest rate of income tax.

Currently, a worker has to pay 52pc tax on all income over €32,800.

In his televised address at the Labour annual conference in Killarney, Mr Gilmore said: "When the country's finances permit, I hope we will be able to relieve somewhat the burden of taxation on working people."

Mr Gilmore also said that there would be no going back to "boom and Bert" – a dig at former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's role in the economic collapse. A senior Labour source said there would be no spending splurge during the Coalition's remaining two years in office.

Mr Gilmore attempted to explain to a sceptical public that his party had to do whatever it took to keep the country from financial collapse. He said he had to put "national responsibility" before the Labour Party because he feared back in 2011 that the country would not make it.

"Not everyone has been happy with some of the decisions we have had to make. I understand that and I accept responsibility for it," he said.

Mr Gilmore said that after the bailout exit in two weeks' time, the Government's key focus would be on securing full employment.

He also said the Government would "fight to win" the referendum on gay marriage in 2015. However, Mr Gilmore's indications of a large scale Cabinet reshuffle – revealed in yesterday's Irish Independent – shocked senior members of the party.

According to the report, Labour frontbenchers Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte face the axe next year as Mr Gilmore looks to freshen up his Cabinet line-up.

"That was a bit of a bombshell, a few senior ministers didn't look to be enjoying their breakfasts this morning," a senior source told the Sunday Independent.

Another party source said: "There is going to be serious competition amongst the younger Turks in the party, Alan Kelly, Sean Sherlock Alex White and those, this could be a real source of instability."

There was much surprise about the possible exit of Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, who is a close ally of Mr Gilmore.

Mr Rabbitte said he intended to run again in Dublin South-West and insisted that he had no concerns about losing his place at Cabinet.

"No, I'm not worried. This is above my pay grade. I'm just a rank-and-file member of the Cabinet. I don't know anything about a reshuffle."

Another Labour source dismissed the prospect of Mr Rabbitte retiring so that junior minister Alex White could move from his reduced three-seater Dublin South constituency to the Communications Minister's Dublin South-West constituency.

Meanwhile, party members embarrassed leadership by making it official party policy to exclude huge numbers of people from property tax. SIPTU president Jack O'Connor pushed through the motion calling for LPT exemption for families on social welfare, on low incomes and for those who their houses during "the bubble years".

However, despite the passage of the motion by Labour members, there is no chance of the FG-Labour Coalition actually changing legislation to take account of it.

Sunday Independent

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