Friday 15 December 2017

Varadkar to combat Brexit hit with boost to infrastructure and tax cuts

The North and public pay among issues in spotlight

New Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has outlined five key immediate priorities he wishes to tackle. Picture: Tom Burke
New Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has outlined five key immediate priorities he wishes to tackle. Picture: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Spending on road and rail, as well as income tax cuts, are set to form key planks of Leo Varadkar's response to Brexit.

Mr Varadkar has outlined five key immediate priorities as Taoiseach to the Irish Independent.

He confirmed his plans for capital investment and tax cuts formed part of his strategy for dealing with the fallout from the United Kingdom leaving the EU.

If, as expected, Mr Varadkar is elected Taoiseach in the Dáil next week, he will have less than 10 days to prepare for a crunch European Council meeting.

It will be the first meeting of EU leaders following the UK general election on Thursday, and the remaining 27 member states are due to discuss Brexit negotiations. Mr Varadkar last night identified his five immediate policy priorities.

He listed them as Brexit, the restoration of the Executive in the North, a new pay deal with the public sector, what he described as an "ambitious new capital investment plan", and the preparations for Budget 2018.

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Mr Varadkar said his focus this week would be on meetings with Independent TDs and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

He also confirmed his proposals for capital spending and taxes would form part of his plan to respond to Brexit.

The Irish Independent previously revealed his plans to improve the country's transport infrastructure will cost around €5bn.

During the Fine Gael election contest, Mr Varadkar released a policy paper detailing a 10-year capital plan.

He said that Irish infrastructure lagged behind other European countries and there was a need to invest in roads and railways, as well as housing, healthcare and education.

Specific projects mentioned include the Dublin Metro, M20 road between Cork and Limerick and motorway access to the West and North-West.

During the campaign, he told an audience in Donegal of the need to "invest in new infrastructure to combat Brexit", adding that this would allow Ireland to connect directly with mainland Europe.

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He cited potential investment in Rosslare Port and in an A5 road to connect Donegal to the rest of the country. In relation to taxes, he wants to reduce the marginal rate on workers earning over €70,000 from 52pc, down to 50pc.

Mr Varadkar believes this will improve Ireland's competitiveness.

He plans to fund the increased capital spending by amending Ireland's debt target to 55pc of GDP, from the current level of 45pc.

He has argued that the EU only requires the Government to bring our debt down to 60pc of GDP.

Mr Varadkar was elected Fine Gael leader on Friday evening, and spoke about Brexit and his plans for capital spending.

He said that he wanted to see "special arrangements" for Northern Ireland, while accepting that the region would leave the EU with the rest of the UK.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to see "an invisible or non-existent economic Border" and the North remaining in as many EU programmes as possible.

He also noted: "We don't want Britain to be punished."

Also among his priorities, he said: "There will be a new capital programme and that capital programme will be informed by some of the policies and ideas that I've put forward.

"I'd anticipate that to be a very ambitious programme of capital development."

He said that after the UK election, he wanted to see the parties in the North get together in a renewed effort to form a power-sharing executive.

"Our Government as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement will play its part in making sure that happens," he said.

Mr Varadkar said progress was being made on a public pay deal, and he hoped the talks could conclude by the Dáil's summer recess.

He is set to meet Independent ministers in the coming days and he will also sit down with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Mr Varadkar has already said the 'Confidence and Supply' deal, whereby Fianna Fáil facilitates the minority Fine Gael Government, would be honoured.

Mr Varadkar's new Cabinet is not expected to be publicly named until after he is elected Taoiseach, which could happen as early as Tuesday, June 13.

He met his vanquished rival Simon Coveney on Saturday to discuss the Housing Minister's future role.

Mr Coveney, who won a considerable majority among Fine Gael's rank and file membership, has been widely tipped to be appointed as Tánaiste.

Their meeting was described over the weekend by Mr Varadkar's spokesman as "positive and constructive", but Cabinet formation was said to be still "under consideration".

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny is today beginning what are set to be his last foreign engagements as Taoiseach.

He is leading a two-day trade mission to Chicago, where he will meet business leaders as well as mayor Rahm Emanuel. On Wednesday, Mr Kenny will travel to Belgium for a World War I commemoration ceremony.

Irish Independent

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