Friday 15 November 2019

'Hope you didn't spend too much time practising this morning' -Taoiseach clashes with Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald for second day in a row

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Reuters
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Reuters
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has accused Sinn Féin of having an "innate contempt for democracy and free speech" as he clashed with deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald for the second day in a row.

He made the claim in the Dáil after he was interrupted as he was answering a question Ms McDonald posed on how bailed out bank AIB won't have to pay taxes for 20 years.

"It does show an innate contempt for democracy and free speech and it does indicate the kind of society we might have if Sinn Féin ever got power that they would try to restrict free speech and restrict democracy if they were  in power because of this behaviour," Mr Varadkar said.

His remarks came a day after he compared Ms McDonald to French far-right politician Marine LePen.

He said on Tuesday: "Even though their politics is totally different, Deputy McDonald reminds me more and more of Marine Le Pen because she always goes back to her script."

Today Ms McDonald asked Mr Varadkar about revelations at a finance committee meeting that AIB won't pay taxes for two decades after questions to bank chiefs by her party colleague Pearse Doherty.

"A bank that is now profitable will pay no corporation tax – zip, zero, zilch," she said.

Ms McDonald added:

Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tony Gavin

"AIB made a pre-tax profit of €840m for the first six months of this year. And the tax which is due on these profits is money that’s badly needed to deal with the crises in our crumbling public services, not least health and mental health."

She said the Taosieach talks about the State having tight fiscal space and added;

"Is it any wonder that we have a tight fiscal space. 

"So after all the cuts, the hardship that your party visited on ordinary people, the banks are back in profit and they’re told that they’re scott-free in relation to their corporation tax obligations."

She asked Mr Varadkar how much tax the State is foregoing from AIB and other banks in similar circumstances.

Mr Varadkar began his response saying: "I wish to compliment Deputy McDonald on flawless delivery of your script. Pauses, intonation and everything was absolutely perfect as always. Hope you didn’t spend too much time practicing it this morning."

He confirmed the first priority in the Budget is to balance the books "for the first time in 10 years".

Mr Varadkar said the national debt currently stands at €200bn and that about €30bn of that is due to bank bailouts, with the rest caused because various governments failed to balance the books.

He said there could be up to €6bn a year in extra cash for health, housing and education if previous governments balanced the books.

He also gave an explanation of "the way tax works" adding; "I’m happy to organise a briefing for the Deputy and Deputy Doherty.

"The way tax works is that if you’re a self employed person, if you’re a farmer or if you’re business and you’ve made losses on a previous year you can offset them against future tax liabilities.

"And the same thing applies to banks."

Mr Varadkar added: "However, in order to ensure that we do get some revenue from banks we’ve introduced a specific bank levy which is only applied to banks so that we get revenues from them and between now and 2021 the bank levy will bring in €750m."

Ms McDonald responded saying that Sinn Féin's pre-Budget submission would also balance the books, but by making "very different" choices that she argued would support communities, families and public services.

She insisted that tax was being foregone in the arrangement with AIB and asked again about other banks.

Mr Varadkar said: "There isn’t tax forgone. As I’ve explained businesses who have made losses in the past can offset those losses against future tax liabilities."

It was then amid interruptions to his answer that he made the remarks arguing that Sinn Féin as "an innate contempt for democracy".

The next TD to speak, Solidarity's Ruth Coppinger asked a question about abortion.

She began by saying: "I hope I’m not treated to the same patronising and condescending response that the Taoiseach just gave to a previous female TD."

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