Wednesday 21 March 2018

Varadkar promises three years of tax cuts and tech growth

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after he delivered his first conference speech as party leader at the Fine Gael’s National Conference in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after he delivered his first conference speech as party leader at the Fine Gael’s National Conference in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan. Photo: Fergal Phillips

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Income tax for families will be cut in the next three budgets if Fine Gael remains in power, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised.

In his first speech as party leader to a National Conference, Mr Varadkar committed to making Dublin the "tech capital of Europe".

He also said the Irish Government will "safeguard" the rights of people in Northern Ireland who feel under threat from Brexit.

Around 1,500 Fine Gael supporters gathered in Cavan last night to hear the Taoiseach outline his vision for a so-called 'Republic of Opportunity'.

Mr Varadkar opened his half-hour contribution by reflecting on his election as Fine Gael leader and what he believes it "said about the Ireland of today".

"What it said about our respect for diversity, our disregard for prejudice, our willingness to see people as individuals, and our fundamental fairness as a people.

"I also took something more from it. It told me what my mission must be as leader and as Taoiseach," he said.

Mr Varadkar said the Government is "on your side" and everything they do is aimed at building "a better and fairer Ireland".

He pledged to continue increasing the minimum wage in the years ahead and ensuring every worker is enrolled in a personal pension fund.

"We will now focus on reducing taxes for middle-income earners. It's not fair that people on middle incomes pay income tax at the highest rate.

"Fine Gael believes in rewarding work. So in the Budget we raised the standard cut-off point, and we will do so again in the next one - and the one after that - and the one after that," he said.

Fine Gael's confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil is due to expire after next October's Budget.

For families, Mr Varadkar said he is determined to introduce paid leave that can be shared between parents in the first year of their child's life.

He also said there should be a reformed social insurance system which will provide sick pay for people who have to take time off work to care for loved ones who are seriously ill.

Setting out a wider vision for the country, Mr Varadkar told the audience Ireland will be "future-proofed" with balanced regional development and Dublin will be the technology capital of Europe.

"In planning for the future, we must prepare for major changes that are coming. Robotics, artificial intelligence, driverless vehicles, renewable energy and smart grids will change our world in the next 20 years in the way the internet and mobile phones did in the last.

"Ireland should be an early adopter of these new technologies," he said.

Fine Gael will today publish the first draft of its vision for a 'Republic of Opportunity' which will contain themes such as 'Ageing with Security' and 'Making Work Pay'.

The 50-page document proposes the establishment of a commission on the status of women in Ireland.

One suggestion contained in the document is that Government funding for sport would be allocated on an equal basis to male and female participation.

It also contains ideas for revitalising rural areas with the creation of town hubs including services like post offices, tourist information offices and citizens' information centres.

Irish Independent

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