The Social Democrats will not increase the minimum wage but want employers to move voluntarily to a living wage, according to joint party leader Stephen Donnelly.
He repeated the party’s view that “we’re not ruling anyone in or out” as a potential coalition partner, but accused the Government of “rank hypocrisy” when it came to indigenous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The party had some “red line issues”, he added, but “we’re not talking about them just yet”.
“We have to see where there is opportunity about coalition. We will talk to people who are serious about a social democratic Ireland,” he continued.
Mr Donnelly was speaking at the launch of the party’s Backing Irish Business policy, which aims to see indigenous Irish businesses get “the level of support given to multinationals”.
Keith McDonnell, owner of the Irish Whiskey Museum on Grafton Street in Dublin, where the launch took place, said he had started his business on his own in 2010, doing walking tours, and now employed 95 people in the tourism sector.
Mr Donnelly said that in one of the “harshest recessions this country’s ever seen” Mr McDonnell had “employed 95 people”, but that not a single Government Minister had been to see him.
‘Harpists and dancing girls’
"Compare that to Donald Trump, flying into the west of Ireland, being good enough to buy one our golf courses in a fire sale," he said. "He arrives in on a jet. The Minister for Finance is waiting for him at the end of a red carpet, complete with harpists and dancing girls."
He said that if a foreign tech firm arrived in Dublin “and said ‘We’re hiring 100 people’, there’d be a queue of Ministers out the door trying to get their photograph taken”.
However, in the heart of Dublin, an employer hires 95 people and “nobody arrives. We’ve got to change the tone.”
SMEs employ three out of every four people in the private sector and represent 99 per cent of companies registered in Ireland, a total of about 185,000 firms.
The Wicklow TD said the party’s proposals had a “very low level of cost” and included measures to cut red tape for business, by redesigning forms and paperwork to facilitate entrepreneurs rather than State systems.
People filling in self-assessment tax forms “need a PhD to answer the variety of questions” and said Ireland should follow the Norwegian online system that comprehensively reduced paperwork while maintaining compliance.
Mr Donnelly called for credit unions and post offices to be allowed to provide a full community banking service, when credit unions had €9 billion on deposit, mostly in banks.
The policy included a focus on high-speed broadband, including an investment of €25 million to put broadband into every primary school. It was already in place in secondary schools, which was a “brilliant idea”, he said.
Asked about increasing the minimum wage, currently €9.15, Mr Donnelly said he would not increase it but instead wanted employers to move voluntarily to the living wage, assessed at €11.30.
“We’re very cognisant that it would not be possible for a lot of businesses, so we support the Congress call for a move to a living wage.”
“You move voluntarily to the living wage, which is obviously significantly higher. You’ve got to give people enough money to live a dignified life.”
Asked how many companies he believed would move to a living wage over the next five years, he said it was “unclear” but several big companies such as Aldi and Lidl already had.
When asked whether he would go into coalition with the Government parties, despite accusing them of “rank hypocrisy”, Mr Donnelly insisted the party was “not ruling anyone in or out”.
If the next government were to continue on the path of the current administration, bringing in US-style taxes - a “profoundly unhealthy path for the future, then no we wouldn’t”.
He said certain areas, such as the health service, needed cross-party support but “the destructive and conflicted nature of politics...is not how people run their businesses. If you ran your business the way the Dáil operates you’d be on the dole queue in about six months.”
Liam Coyne, Social Democrats candidate in Dublin South-Central, started a business in Walkinstown, Dublin, in 2012 with 24 people. He said that if businesses failed at any stage "the reward is to have no safety net at all". If people took the challenge and if they failed they should be entitled to social service supports.
Glenna Lynch, Dublin Bay South candidate, stressed the need for a proper peer-to-peer mentoring system for business owners.
She said there had been an “awful lot of wasted opportunity” in current State-supported mentoring. “It cannot be a box-ticking exercise,” she said.