Varadkar does not rule out tax increases in Browne interview
Office of Taoiseach has been ‘steep learning curve’, FG leader tells Vincent Browne
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would not rule out raising some taxes in future budgets but disputed such an approach was essential to delivering a more equal society.
Mr Varadkar was a speaking during an interview on the penultimate episode of TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne programme on Wednesday.
The Taoiseach also said that the problems in housing and health would not be solved in the lifetime of this Government.
“The State is building houses but not enough. It has ramped up,” he said.
“We stopped building houses for far too long in Ireland for lots of reasons; we are now back in the space where the State is building houses again. There are 3,000 currently under construction now, compared to 1,000 the same time last year.”
The Taoiseach noted that under the current “Rebuilding Ireland” scheme, the Government had included enough money to increase social housing by one third.
Mr Varadkar noted that the Government planned to take a greater look at the vacant properties around the country to tackle the issue.
Challenged as to how he would deliver a fairer Ireland – or his vision of a “republic of opportunity” – without raising taxes, the Taoiseach said this was not necessarily required, and that a rise in employment would bolster State coffers.
“Tax revenues are up. Not as much as we thought they would be but they are up because there are more people working and there are more people earning more, and more people spending more in the economy,” he said.
He said this translated into what had become known as the “fiscal space” of budgetary planning but added: “I don’t rule out raising some taxes into the future.”
He said in most budgets they had done this with cigarettes and in other tax areas.
Mr Varadkar described his “republic of opportunity” as an “ideal” that would deliver equal opportunity for everyone in Ireland to build a successful life and that the same vision applied to all parts and regions of the country.
He said the Government would soon deliver a 10-year capital investment plan worth about €80 billion that would bring with it significant opportunity to target such improvements.
In an interview lasting more than half an hour, Mr Varadkar conceded the office of Taoiseach had proven to be a “steep learning curve” but that he was determined to prove his value in the role.
He spoke of a change in his lifestyle with an emphasis on physical health, training four mornings a week and rising at about 6.45am.
Mr Browne drew him on his controversial remark made during the Fine Gael leadership contest in which he said he sought to represent those who “got up early in the morning”.
Asked to elaborate, the Taoiseach said it was a metaphor for people who worked hard, regardless of the specific hours.
“What it refers to is effectively two million people who work in Ireland for a living; 1.5 million who pay income tax, who work very hard, who contribute a huge amount to the country in terms of tax and also in terms of the work that they do,” he said.
“It’s the middle class, it’s middle Ireland and it’s a group of people who often feel that they contribute a lot to the economy and a lot to society but maybe they don’t get as much back for it as they should.”
These people were on the wrong side of the means test for medical cards; they received no housing support; and until recently they would have lost out on childcare subsidies, he said.
“I think they are the people who make everything possible in this country and they need to know that Government is on their side,” he said. “I want to raise their living standards.”
Mr Browne put it to him that he was not on the side of people who were outside the middle class.
He rejected this, saying: “My job as Taoiseach and the job of any government of course is to represent all people.”
He said he had a record of assisting all sections in society and pointed to welfare increases for 800,000 people, and free GP care for children under the age of six and those over the age of 70.