Dail row over 'socialist' Ahern

 

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was tonight asked to prove his socialist credentials, having claimed he was one of the last remaining true socialists in Irish politics.

To roars of laughter and heckling in the Dail, Mr Ahern stood by his assertions, declaring that Fianna Fail represented the most left-wing government Ireland had seen in recent years.

Labour Party leader Mr Pat Rabbitte, addressing the Taoiseach as "Comrade", asked how the lives of ordinary citizens would be affected now he had come out as a socialist.

"Nothing has stretched credulity so much since the press conference in Baghdad of Comical Ali," he said.

"Will it mean that everyone will have to pay a fair tax, does it mean that you will undo the social welfare cuts and restore the Rapid programme designed to transfer resources to the most disadvantaged areas of the country?"

He described the comments, made in an interview last weekend, as "a cynical and calculated attempt to re-brand one of the most right-wing governments Ireland had seen since its foundation".

Mr Rabbitte asked Mr Ahern whether there would now be a change in direction of the policies his government has pursued for more than seven years.

But the Taoiseach stood robustly by his claims, outlining that the core of centre-left political ideology was to spread more wealth.

"Fianna Fail's record since we returned to office in 1997 is that of the most left-wing government this country has ever seen," he said.

Mr Rabbitte was not smiling as Mr Ahern joked that he was enjoying the fact Labour had not been so upset for 20 years.

"This government has done much more than anybody else on pensions, social welfare, unemployment, education and investing in health," he added. "We have done more than Labour or any democratic left for that matter."

The Taoiseach told the Dail that most left-wing or communist parties in Europe would be very pleased to have Ireland's economic statistics.

"You know in your heart that the real workers party in this country is Fianna Fail," he told the Labour leader.

"The social welfare budget this year went up €640 million, more people will be catered for in social, affordable housing this year than any year since 1986.

"The income tax burden for the average household has fallen from 30 per cent in 1996 to 18 per cent today. The average industrial wage is €10,000 up. You can't turn away from that."

Mr Ahern claimed the reason why so fewer people qualified for medical cards was because they were all working.

Socialist Party leader Mr Joe Higgins was not in the Dail to comment on Mr Ahern's new credentials.