Enda Stakes his Claim
Deaglán de Bréadún
There’s not much time left to the local and European elections which are set for June 5th. There is a strong possibility that the Dublin Central and Dublin South by-elections may take place on the same day – the writ can be moved as late as May 6th, or 30 days in advance.
With that in mind, perhaps, Enda Kenny opted to set out his stall in hard, practical terms in his ardfheis speech last night. There was little of the touchy-feely stuff that we had two years ago and no mention of the Contract for a Better Ireland – an idea that never took off.
Here’s what you get if you vote Fine Gael, was his theme. Obviously the items on his list referred to what FG would do if it got to power after a general election. If the Government gets the Budget wrong and loses its majority, then we are in that kind of territory.
The key pledge for many voters will be his undertaking that current rates of income tax will not be increased. FG is planning to take the money in other ways through an increased levy and removing the upper limit on Pay-Related Social Insurance but the first would be intended as temporary and for some reason people get less excited about PRSI.
FG’s plan is in contrast with the Labour and Sinn Féin proposals to introduce a third rate of tax of 48 per cent on incomes over €100,000. Indeed, the Government could perhaps be about to do the same in Tuesday’s Budget.
This could become a critical election issue. Take your Garda-Nurse married couple or your Teacher-Teacher pairing. Earning more than €100,000 between them would be a given in many of these relationships. The Garda and the Nurse would be in line for overtime, I cannot speak of the teachers. People are more likely to vote for a temporary (in intention at any rate) levy than a new, higher rate of tax that would be more likely to be permanent.
This is the social group which generally earns too much for local authority grants and would have been dependent on the free frees system to send their children to third-level. Now that is in serious jeopardy. Kenny got a big cheer when he said he would not bring back fees although FG is promoting a system of graduate taxation tied to PRSI.
There are injustices in the grants system which can be gone into on another occasion. Classically, I have heard of a publican whose declared income was so low he could get grants for his kids while the bartender on PAYE was over the limit but was paying for his the education of his employer’s children. The injustice of that cries out to the heavens.
Meanwhile there is a bidding war on the issue of junior ministers. Eamon Gilmore of Labour pledged to cut them from 20 to 15. Now Kenny has gone down to 12. Both parties as well as FF and the Greens were involved in the increase in numbers in this category in the past and some would say they should all apologise for it at this stage.
The mood at the ardfheis was upbeat, one would almost say expectant. There may have been mutterings in the past about Kenny’s leadership but last night they were put to one side, for the moment anyway. Indeed one leading FG-er blamed the media and wondered when we were going to give the guy an even break. We’re the cause of everything!
SUNDAY EVENING UPDATE: A row has broken out between Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny over the latter’s ardfheis speech. Cowen is accusing Kenny of trying to “cod” the people by suggesting there could be recovery without tax increases. Kenny is on tonight’s Week in Politics and, in an advance clip shown on the evening news, interviewer David McCullagh points out that the FG leader left out any mention of his “temporary solidarity tax” proposal from his ardfheis speech. Kenny maintains that he had to leave a lot of things out, due to shortage of time. La lutte continue.
Kenny was unwise, in this writer’s opinion, to leave himself open to attack from Cowen: FF don’t miss an opportunity like that. Likewise it was a bit strange that the only section of the speech in Irish dealt with the Northern Ireland situation. Great to see the cúpla focal but is this the best way to reach out to the unionists?