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Thursday 14 December 2017

Health levy was imposed too late -- Martin

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Failing to bring in a ring-fenced tax hike to fund the health service was a mistake of Fianna Fail's time in power, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin.

After 13 years as a cabinet minister in four different departments, Mr Martin admitted he himself made mistakes -- he just didn't identify any.

"Of course I made mistakes. I did a lot of good things as well," he said in an interview with the Irish Independent.

"I think in most ministries I left something very positive behind in all of them," he added.

Mr Martin agreed with his Cabinet colleagues, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, that the Fianna Fail-led Coalition made the mistake of overspending and reducing the tax base.

But he also pointed to the refusal to bring in a specific health levy in 2001 when the National Health Strategy was being implemented.

"I kept arguing both internally and externally . . . where I felt there should have been a health levy.

"But I got no traction. And I tell you when I put it to David Begg (ICTU) and Jack O'Connor (SIPTU) and others, they would come in arguing for health and they would say we must do X, Y, Z and sort this cutback and that cutback.

"And I would say: 'Well I think actually, lads, we need a health levy ringfenced for health' and there'd be silence. Before they'd leave they would actually say; 'By the way, don't take our silence as acquiescence'," he said.


"In fairness to (Finance Minister Charlie) McCreevy and others, there is a countervailing argument that you need to get efficiencies in health before you'd levy any more tax. And I buy that point, right."

The Health Levy and Income Levy are both to be abolished -- and replaced by a new Universal Social Charge.

Mr Martin said Fianna Fail in government "unnecessarily reduced the tax base too much and overspent".

"We raced ahead and said we were going to do the old age pension. Each party eventually then began to outbid the other.

"We tripled child benefit when the average before that was maybe a fiver or a tenner a year and no one said boo to you one way or another.," he said.

"But we're now pulling it back a bit and it's painful. That's where I think we made mistakes and I regret that."

Irish Independent

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