“For the second year in a row this Government has introduced a Budget that is deeply regressive, both socially and economically … Socially it hits people on low incomes, including the working poor, more than it hits the better off.

That is the result of the Government, the Labour Party in particular, reneging on the commitments given in the programme for Government and during the 2011 general election. One of the most blatant examples is the cut in child benefit. During the 2011 general election the Labour Party took out Tesco-like advertisements and at every door its candidates told voters that Fine Gael wanted to cut child benefit.”

Minister Howlin Refuses to Tax the 10,000 on 595,000 Per annum

Deputy Seamus Healy: The Minister has been inviting us to consider outcomes. Maybe we should examine some of the outcomes of the social and economic policy of this Government. The gap between rich and poor in Ireland is now four times the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, average. Incomes in the average Irish household have fallen by 50% and low income households lost a greater proportion of their income than the better off. The number of those in poverty has risen and the level of the poverty has deepened.

That is the view expressed recently by the OECD which confirmed the ESRI’s finding that budget 2014 had had the greatest impact on low income groups, the incomes of which had declined by 2%, and supported the claim by Social Justice Ireland that budget 2013 had been unjust and regressive. Social Justice Ireland stated:

For the second year in a row this Government has introduced a Budget that is deeply regressive, both socially and economically … Socially it hits people on low incomes, including the working poor, more than it hits the better off.

That is the result of the Government, the Labour Party in particular, reneging on the commitments given in the programme for Government and during the 2011 general election. One of the most blatant examples is the cut in child benefit. During the 2011 general election the Labour Party took out Tesco-like advertisements and at every door its candidates told voters that Fine Gael wanted to cut child benefit.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Is there a question or is this a speech?

Deputy Seamus Healy: Labour Party candidates asked the public to vote for them in order to stop child benefit cuts. The public put its trust in the Labour Party and what happened? The party has supported cuts in child benefit every year since it entered government.

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to, please, put his question.

Deputy Seamus Healy: My question for the Minister—–

Deputy Brendan Howlin: The Deputy has a question.

Deputy Seamus Healy: My question for the Minister, if he will listen, is whether he will reverse the social welfare cuts, including, in particular, the cuts in child benefit, heating, fuel and telephone allowances for elderly people and the carer’s allowance. Is the Labour Party not ashamed, in this the centenary year of the 1913 Lockout and the party’s foundation—–
An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, but the Deputy is over time.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: He is well over time.

Deputy Seamus Healy: —– that it is introducing budgets that hit the low-paid rather than the super rich and the very wealthy?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: I have listened to the usual political drivel from the Deputy opposite.

Deputy Seamus Healy: It is true.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: It may have escaped the Deputy – perhaps his salary and other supports are too healthy – that we have just gone through the worst economic crisis in the history of the State. The Government has managed to pick up the broken pieces of a shattered economy and returned it to growth. The critical criteria people will consider are fundamental issues such as employment. How many people have jobs? When we entered government, the unemployment figure was heading towards 500,000. The Deputy is not interested in listening to me. He is fumbling with his papers.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch: He is preparing his second speech.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: The unemployment rate is now falling. It is still too high, at 290,000, but we expect it to fall below 11% this year. Nobody would have believed this a few years ago. We have stabilised our budgets and torn up the prom note, that despicable arrangement made by the previous Administration. We have brought confidence back to the economy. That is the judgment people will make.

The Deputy referred to commitments made by my party. He may not have noticed that it is not in a single party Government. We did not win an overall majority in the last general election. We negotiated a programme for Government with a party which had won significantly more seats than we had. However, if one considers the balance between all of the commitments made by my party and Fine Gael to the people, one will see that the vast bulk have been delivered on. For some Deputies opposite, the very prospect of recovery and renewal is anathema to their political outlook. There are Deputies on the Opposition side who revel in the misfortune of the people and the State because they think they can make political capital from it.

Deputy Seamus Healy: The policy of the Government is to make the poor and the less well-off pay.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: That is a lie.

Deputy Seamus Healy: It made promises with full knowledge of the situation in 2011. The assets of the super rich are back above peak levels in 2006, according to the Central Statistics Office.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: What does that mean?

Deputy Seamus Healy: It means that there are very wealthy people in this country.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, Deputy, but we are dealing with Leaders’ Questions.

Deputy Seamus Healy: The Government has chosen not to make them pay their fair share.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: The Deputy claims only to represent the poor. How many pensions is he getting?

An Ceann Comhairle: What is Deputy Seamus Healy’s supplementary question?

Deputy Seamus Healy: The Government has chosen not to impose an asset or wealth tax on the super rich. However, it is hitting poor and less well-off families.

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy, please, put his supplementary question?

Deputy Seamus Healy: There is wealth in this country that is not being taxed by the Government. Will the Minister introduce a tax on wealth and assets to ensure the very wealthy in society, that is, those who earn €595,000 a year and those who have significant assets, pay their fair share of taxes?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: The Deputy is probably aware that we have one of the most progressive income tax regimes in the world. Aside from only one country in the OECD, our progressive tax rate is the best.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Will the Government introduce a wealth or an asset tax?

An Ceann Comhairle: Please allow the Minister to reply.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Deputy Seamus Healy does not want to hear the reply.

Deputy Seamus Healy: I just want the Minister to answer the question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Everybody in the House wants to hear the reply. The Deputy has had his say.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: He had his say, but I am afraid that he just reads his script and is not interested in the reply. We have the second most progressive income tax regime, with a high marginal rate of tax, that we have defended because the crisis in the country requires everyone to make an appropriate contribution.

Deputy Seamus Healy: I am asking about a wealth or an asset tax.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: When we introduce asset taxes, for example, a local property tax which is regarded as the norm among social democratic parties, the Deputy opposite opposes them. He is only in favour of fantasy taxes on fantasy people.

Deputy Seamus Healy: A Fine Gael Minister did it in the past.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: If we were to impose a tax on those earning in excess of €590,000, as the Deputy suggests, how many people would it cover and how much would accrue to the State?

Deputy Seamus Healy: There are 10,000 such individuals.

An Ceann Comhairle: I guarantee the Deputy silence when he is asking a question. Will he, please, respect the respondent?

Deputy Seamus Healy: I would like an answer.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please stay quiet.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Deputy Seamus Healy is not interested in the answer. He is only interested in making a stump speech. His greatest regret is that the Government’s economic policies are driving recovery and job creation and bringing investment into the State.

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