Now for the hard bit ... getting credit for the tough decisions

Kenny pledges to keep Coalition in office and on track until end of the line

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

In many ways the new Statement of Government Priorities stands as the sum of the vows taken by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton.

In clammy heat last evening outside Government Buildings, Mr Kenny pledged to keep the Coalition in office until the very last day of its mandate in the spring of 2016.

Whether he and Burton can do that may well depend on their capacity to bring the benefits of the nascent economic recovery quickly into the daily lives of people who have seen none of it yet.

“The people’s sacrifices have not been, and will not be, wasted. But while the country is moving in the right direction, too many people continue to struggle in their daily lives,” said the statement.

This represents both the bind the Government finds itself in after a big electoral setback in May and concern that it will ultimately benefit from the many difficult decisions taken since the Coalition took office in 2011.

This new document incorporates Burton’s claim for “equal emphasis” on social recovery as on economic recovery, with measures pledged as early as the October budget to ease the burden on low- and middle-income families.

Battleground

It’s clear enough already that this will be a key battleground for the Coalition’s next phase, but the talks this week between Taoiseach and Tánaiste were not in the nature of a budget negotiation.

The Statement of Government Priorities is not the budget.

Thus the fine grain was markedly absent and there was nothing by way of detailed costings in respect of measures promised in the autumn for delivery in 2015.

Indeed, the delay in the reshuffle talks has been attributed to negotiators delving too deep too early into nuanced policy detail before they stepped back.

We are left with broad aspirations, with enough ambiguity to keep everyone on board before the really tough talking on the fiscal plan after the summer.

This is especially true of the income tax provisions which are clear enough as to direction of travel but vague on the final destination and when we might arrive.

The statement said: “In Budget 2015, we will announce a tax reform plan to be delivered over a number of budgets to reduce the 52 per cent tax rate on low- and middle-income earners in a manner that maintains the highly progressive nature of the Irish tax system.

So far, so good , but only so far.

Mr Kenny went no further than saying that there were many ways of approaching the question when asked if such measures would be neutral in respect of the total tax take, ie whether higher earners would have to pay more to compensate for tax revenue forgone for low- and middle-earners.

The plan is clear. Execution is another story.