Wednesday 24 July 2019

Taoiseach promises big - with tax cuts, pension hikes and an 'SSIA' on cards

Michael Ring, Patrick O’Donovan and Eoghan Murphy at the Fine Gael think-in in Galway. Photo: Barbara Lindberg
Michael Ring, Patrick O’Donovan and Eoghan Murphy at the Fine Gael think-in in Galway. Photo: Barbara Lindberg

Cormac McQuinn, Gavin McLoughlin and Kevin Doyle

Fresh promises to cut taxes, hike pensions and restore public sector pay have been offered by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar despite growing warnings that he needs to curtail spending.

And Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is to give serious consideration to the establishment of a savings scheme similar to the boom-time SSIA system.

While acknowledging the need to be prudent, Fine Gael ministers are showing little sign of tightening the nation's belt ahead of the new Dáil term.

Mr Varadkar even paraphrased former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's famous 2002 election slogan 'A lot done, more to do', in explaining why he wants to extend the confidence and supply deal with Fianna Fáil.

He said: "We have a lot done, but there can be no doubt that there is much more to do."

Mr Varadkar made the remarks in a speech to Fine Gael TDs, senators and election candidates at the party's think-in meeting in Galway.

He said the first priority is to ensure the Budget is broadly balanced with a view to moving into surplus next year to reduce the national debt.

"In this Budget or the next - should we get the chance - we will of course find some space to improve living standards.

"Pay restoration for public servants - like teachers, nurses and Gardaí - will continue, as agreed.

"And we will provide further for increases for pensioners, people with disabilities, carers, lone parents, among others," Mr Varadkar said.

"And having taken the lowest paid out of the income tax net altogether, we will ensure that middle-income earners will take home more of their hard-earned."

He said Ireland is a low tax country and "that's a good thing" but that when it comes to income tax "that is not entirely true".

His comments came as the country's budgetary watchdog said that if the Government wants to go beyond its plan for €800m in new spending, it would need new revenue-raising measures to fund that.

Read More: Leo channels his inner Bertie with 'a lot done, more to do' ploy

Seamus Coffey, chair of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, told the Irish Independent that Ireland should "probably be running a surplus already… given the strength of the economy and the tailwinds that have been behind the public finances for the last couple of years".

"It is important that we move to a surplus, we haven't done so yet, but we would hope that we would do so next year.

"Sticking to the €800m plan for the Budget should achieve that. But I think we need to be in a better position than hoping for a budget surplus, we should be planning for one."

Mr Varadkar said that a 'rainy day fund' will be established so the country is better prepared for future economic shocks.

And Mr Donohoe appeared to give a positive response to a suggestion from Central Bank Governor Philip Lane for a new SSIA system. The popular savings accounts saw the State provide a top-up of 25pc to money deposited by households during the 2000s.

The Finance Minister said: "I'll absolutely be considering the views of Governor Lane in relation to SSIAs.

"The kind of proposal that he has put there stretches beyond decisions that you can make on Budget Day. It's something that could happen after the Budget.

"One of the things that we would need to weigh up though is that if people are putting money into an account they would feel that they should have the ability to decide when they take the money back out of the account."

Irish Independent

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