Taoiseach 'not aware' of extent of letters


Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil today he was not aware “of the extent of letters” being sent by the Revenue Commissioners to pensioners about the tax liability controversy.

On the first sitting day after the Christmas recess, Mr Kenny acknowledged the handling of the issue "could have been better”.

However, he insisted the Revenue Commissioners “are completely independent of Government and to attempt to either direct them or give them a diktat would be unwarranted interference”.

He added the Government does not discuss whether or not pensioners "in the category where a 20 cent liability might be involved" should be written to by the Revenue Commissioners or not.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed a “very cynical exercise” was undertaken which caused “anger, confusion and great distress to thousands of pensioners”.

Asking if the Taoiseach was personally aware that 150,000 letters were issued to pensioners, Mr Martin said “there was a conscious concerted effort to collect money without any political accountability by the Government”.

He described as “absolutely pathetic” what he called the Government’s attempt to hide the measure “in the depths of the rainforest of supporting budgetary documentation”.

But Mr Kenny insisted the expected €45 million return from such a check “was not buried away in the forests”. It was contained in supporting documentation to the Government.

Earlier,  Minister for Health Dr James Reilly answered questions on the number of people opting out of private health insurance and other issues. Dr Reilly said he expects a cut of €750 million the overall health budget this year, down from the more than €800 million previously reported.

The Dáil will tonight debate a Sinn Féin Private Member's motion calling for a reversal of the cuts to disadvantaged schools. Party spokesman on education Sean Crowe said said the cuts were "indefensible and wrong'', adding that many children with emotional and behavioural difficulties required the support system that had been in place.

The new Dáil term is likely to see strong exchanges between the Government and the Opposition on the economy and the impact of the budget provisions on families. The term could feature three referendums, on the EU treaty, children's rights and the abolition of the Seanad.

The Mahon tribunal report, dealing with the personal finances of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, is also expected to be published and debated by the House during the term, which will run to Easter.