Friday 15 December 2017

Martin pledges USC cut for workers on up to €80k

ELECTORAL ARITHMETIST: Micheal Martin is adamant that his party will not go into coalition with Sinn Fein after the forthcoming general election
ELECTORAL ARITHMETIST: Micheal Martin is adamant that his party will not go into coalition with Sinn Fein after the forthcoming general election
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fianna Fail policy moves towards Labour as party leader tries to distance himself from coalition links with Sinn Fein

Fianna Fail will abolish the hated Universal Social Charge for every worker earning less than €80,000 if the party is voted into Government, Micheal Martin has revealed.

His pre-election promise - which could be seen as a sop to the Labour Party - comes as he desperately tries to distance himself from Sinn Fein after a week of speculation over the potential for a coalition between Fianna Fail and Gerry Adams's party.

However, Mr Martin insisted that his party would remove 65,400 more people from the USC than Labour and eventually abolish by 2021 the charge that the last Fianna Fail government introduced.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Martin lashed out at the idea of forming a coalition with Sinn Fein and insisted he would never do business with Mr Adams, as he believes he is a former Provisional IRA chief of staff.

Frustrated by months of speculation over opinion poll results, the Fianna Fail leader also rounded on those questioning his post-elections plans by claiming they were "basically saying you shouldn't even have the election".

He branded Taoiseach Enda Kenny the "least accountable of recent Taoisigh" and accused Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin of "incredible arrogance" over his claim that the Opposition does not need to produce manifestos.

However, Mr Martin insisted he would not run a negative campaign and said he was actually "personable" with the Taoiseach outside the Dail chamber.

He also said he is unashamedly pro-life and challenged those who want to replace the Eighth Amendment to produce a reasonable alternative.

Speaking in his Dail office on Thursday morning, after spending the previous two days reeling over Gerry Adams's suggestion that he is open to coalition with Fianna Fail, Mr Martin was in a somewhat combative mood.

He was noticeably uneasy discussing the topic of a coalition with Sinn Fein, clearly drained by the countless queries over the last few months.

And after some questioning on the issue, he said: "We have made our statement, we will not go in with Sinn Fein, we will not be going in with Fine Gael so. How many more times do I have to say this?"

He later added: "No one asks Enda Kenny that question" but concedes that this may be because the Taoiseach does not do as many debates as he does. His reasons for not jumping into bed with Sinn Fein are clear that party's links to the Provisional IRA, the allegations surrounding sex-abuse cover-ups and its economic policies.

Plus, he doesn't have a lot of time for Mr Adams.

"You get all of these mixed messages from Gerry Adams, that he refuses to disassociate himself from the IRA, he claims he was never a member of the IRA - even though he was chief of staff for a period - so there's a fundamental issue of trust," Mr Martin said.

The "trust issue" around Sinn Fein is significant for Fianna Fail, especially in the area of justice.

"Through the peace process, we ensured the triumph of constitutional republicanism over militant republicanism and terrorism and that was one of our singular greatest successes ."

He dismissed the suggestion that on some local authorities Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein councillors are working well together and have passed council budgets without too much fuss.

He said his interaction with Mr Adams was "very limited", which is partly down to Sinn Fein's policy of not engaging with other political parties.

Turning to Fine Gael, Mr Martin believes that its strategists are planning to launch personal attacks on him but claimed that he would not target the Taoiseach in the same manner.

"They will attempt to make it a personal campaign and they'll attempt to undermine me personally - that's their lookout," he said.

He denied that his focus on Mr Kenny's debating skills is personalised. However, the lack of a proper Dail debate on the findings of the Fennelly Report on the controversial retirement of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan still leaves a sour taste in his mouth. Mr Martin believes Mr Kenny media-managed the report's publication and purposely avoided any public scrutiny of the findings.

"I've never seen a Taoiseach as unaccountable as Enda and I think the Taoiseach is the least accountable of recent Taoisigh to the House, to the Dail and to the public in general," he said.

Despite what would again seem like another personal attack, Mr Martin said he and the Taoiseach are actually quite friendly. "I mean, unfortunately, the nature of politics, he's very busy, I'm very busy, we don't get to meet, we don't get a chance to have a cup of tea together or anything like that, but we're very courteous," he said.

Sunday Independent

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