Irish emigrants are not returning to the country because they fear they will get "screwed" for tax, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has claimed.
Speaking at the MacGill summer school, where he was greeted by several dozen anti-water charge protesters on Friday evening, Mr Kenny said the tax rate was “too high a rate and it kicks in too early”.
He reiterated the plan to cut the 7 per cent rate of Universal Social Charge in the forthcoming Budget.
“In doing so, we will bring down the marginal rate of tax paid by people earning less than €70,000 to less than 50 per cent.”
“You have to have a stepped approach to this. That makes it more difficult for our sons and daughters to come home if they want to because they’ll say ‘why should I? Why should I go back if I’m going to get screwed for tax here?’”
He wanted 2016 to be “our own year of family reunification, where our children come home at last from Melbourne or London or New York”.
Addressing the packed room, Mr Kenny referred to the theme of this week's summer school, 'Ireland at the crossroads', noting there was also a political crossroads.
He said people had two roads to choose from. They could choose the road to strengthened economic recovery, or decide to take another road “that’s maybe unmined or unmapped and certainly untested”, a road that “gambled the recovery”.
The Taoiseach also said he believed the next general election would be “like the Grand National” with “lot of runners and riders”.
“I hope we don’t end up with a Tower of Babel in respect of Independents and nobody can get anything done.”
Mr Kenny took several questions from the floor, including one from a local Fine Gael councillor and one from Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the Omagh bombing.
Mr Gallagher said he had “repeatedly asked” for an opportunity to meet the Taoiseach in relation to a report on the bombing that had been presented to him in 2012.
“I’ve actually had to pay €5 to come into the hall. Will you have a meeting with the Omagh families and listen to what they have to say?”
Mr Kenny said he would fix such a meeting “as soon as I can, but it will probably be September”.
There was a heavy Garda presence around the village on Friday as a group of protesters gathered outside the Highlands Hotel ahead of Mr Kenny’s address .
Crush barriers were brought in early in the morning and cones were used to restrict parking on the main street. The Garda helicopter also patrolled overhead.
During the afternoon’s session on rural Ireland, protesters could be heard shouting and chanting outside.
Chants from about 50 protesters carrying banners and placards included: “No way, we won’t pay” and “Labour, Blueshirts, Fianna Fáil; jail, jail, jail them all.”
Catherine Murphy TD told the event a “culture of excessive secrecy” pervaded our politics.
“It is only after the event that we get a glimpse of a decision or set of decisions that on too many occasions favour those in the know; those with connections and those with money. It is quite destructive and indeed highly offensive to the vast majority of people.
She said she got a glimpse of some of that when she pursued the issues surrounding Siteserv and IBRC.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the summer school he was concerned that a poor policy on migration seemed to be “giving rise for the first time in Irish society to a political party focusing on the single issue of immigration”.