Higgins questions emphasis on tax cuts in election campaign

Launch of ethics initiative at Áras a stark reminder of past failures in lead up to crash

In an unprecedented intervention on the eve of the general election campaign President Michael D Higgins has questioned the emphasis being placed on tax cuts by political parties.

“Is it possible to have a decent society and at the same time continue to lower taxes for the purposes of securing the best short-term benefit?” asked Mr Higgins.

Speaking to The Irish Times at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday after the publication of his report on The President of Ireland's Ethics Initiative, Mr Higgins warned that essential services must not become a political football in the election campaign.

“I can’t obviously comment on the platforms of the parties that will contest the election,” he said before discussing the issue of taxation. “People setting their face against tax and using the language that regards it as inevitably a great burden I’m afraid represents a view of the world [which] is not one that I think really can engage with what we are speaking about in the ethics initiative.”


Great failures

The President said there had been great failures of an ethical kind in the lead-up to the recession but the good news was that the public wanted to get to a new place and wanted to get there ethically.

“But sometimes they are contradicted because they are being offered short-term advantages for themselves which are, if you like, contradicting the best of their social aspirations,” he said. Most political parties have made reductions in tax a key element of their election manifestos. Fine Gael is proposing the abolition of the universal social charge (USC) over the lifetime of the next government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said this will reduce the maximum tax rate for middle income families from 52 per cent to 44 per cent. The party will also seek to introduce a new levy on high income earners.

Labour has pledged to abolish the USC for low and middle income earners. Fianna Fáil will move to reduce the USC if elected to government. Sinn Féin is pledging to take those earning under €20,000 out of the USC net and introduce a wealth tax.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times