Martin calls for dedicated tax to fund health services

Personal taxation should not be increased ‘necessarily right now’ to create such a levy

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: “New, transparent health tax, within the existing levels of taxation, would allow people to see  a certain proportion of their taxes are being used for a specific reason.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: “New, transparent health tax, within the existing levels of taxation, would allow people to see a certain proportion of their taxes are being used for a specific reason.” Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

A dedicated health tax should be created and ringfenced to fund hospitals and other services which have been neglected by the Government, according to Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin.

However, Mr Martin said the level of personal taxation should not be increased “necessarily right now” to create such a levy, but suggested the pace of reducing taxes could be slowed.

A new, transparent health tax, within the existing levels of taxation, would allow people to see that a certain proportion of their taxes are being used for a specific reason, he said.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Martin, a former minister for health, said there would be an appetite among people to pay more money for health services but he said he is “not into increasing taxes necessarily right now”.

‘Neglected services’

“We believe Fine Gael have neglected services and we feel what has happened in Health is not defendable. I am really worried about acute hospitals. There needs to be absolute transparency in terms of what the Government intends to do for Health.”

He said a percentage of overall public spending should be allocated towards Health and should not “be touched”.

Fianna Fáil believes in a model of direct taxation funding, he said. “Even within the existing expenditure, the idea of a hypothecated tax is one we should explore.”

A hypothecated tax is one where the money collected is used for a particular purpose rather than spent on a number of general things.

“It is saying X proportion of your tax revenue is going to Health and will continue to go to Health so you protect it from cuts going into the future.

“It’s not that you’re going to be increasing taxes. Maybe slow down the reduction of taxes if we have a transparent figure.

“What this Government has done in the last few years is say: ‘I’ll give you something off in this tax’. Meanwhile your mother has to wait 14 weeks to get into Fair Deal, but now it’s back down to four.

‘Honesty needs to come in’

“Or your 91-year-old mother is on a trolley for an inordinate length of time. So that’s where the honesty needs to come in.”

However, he said there is an appetite among people to accept that they may have to pay more tax to adequately fund the Health service.

“I think there probably is,” he said. “I think we did it with the (National ) Treatment Purchase Fund. The NPRF was exclusively set up to deal with patients on waiting lists. It was given an exclusive ringfenced budget of €30 million and it went off and purchased operations for patients.”

A new fund could be used to fund new drugs and technologies, he said.

“Of all the spending we do, let’s take a very small percentage of that and put it in a new, high technology drugs fund. You still negotiate with the pharma companies; you don’t give in and give them what they want.

“You have all the processes to validate the drug, that it is a game-changer and that it does add value.

“But we should say to the public that what we need to do is, people with cystic fibrosis, or people who depend on [life-saving drug] Solaris, or people who depend on other new drugs, will get them.”