Varadkar promises Budget tax measures to help middle income earners

‘As a party we’re all about protecting people’s incomes,’ says Fine Gael leader

 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton and Minister of State Damien English speaking to media at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting  in Trim,  Co Meath. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton and Minister of State Damien English speaking to media at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting in Trim, Co Meath. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said Fine Gael wants a return to budgets that include tax and welfare packages “to protect people from the rise in the cost of living.”

The Fine Gael leader said this was the “norm” before the threat to the State’s finances posed by Brexit and that he wants to see such packages in every Budget.

Speaking at at a press conference at his party’s pre-Dáil think-in meeting in Trim. Co Meath, Mr Varadkar promised tax measures in the upcoming Budget to help “middle income people in particular” and a welfare package to offset the impact of rising prices.

However, he declined to go into detail on the detail of such measures saying: “That will all be negotiated between now and Budget today, I’m not going to put ant figures on it at this stage.”

He said it has not been a good summer for Fine Gael - which has been mired in controversy over the appointment of former Independent Minister Katherine Zappone as a special envoy.

But he said there is a chance for his party to “regroup” and “reset” and to “focus on the really important work that we’re going to do on behalf of the Irish people over Mr Varadkar said this includes the easing of the final Covid restrictions, the booster vaccination programme and the Budget “which we want to do use to protect incomes and to improve public services and get businesses open again”.

He declined to put a figure on the size of increases to weekly payments like the State pension or to say if his party is pushing for across-the-board increases to welfare payments.

He said he would not mention any numbers, as Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys and Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath would “string me up if I did.”

Welfare package

Mr Varadkar said: “The reason why Fine Gael is calling for that pension and the welfare package to be in the Budget is because there hasn’t been an increase in the State pension now for a number of years, hasn’t been increase by basic weekly payments of welfare”.

He said such a situation was “acceptable” at a time when the cost of living was not rising, but noted that it is now, with a return of inflation which he said is being seen at petrol stations and supermarkets.

“As a party we’re all about protecting people’s incomes and that applies to pensioners and people on welfare too.”

Put to him that he could be accused of trying to buy Fine Gael votes at a time that support is dipping in polls, Mr Varadkar replied: “I’m accused of all sorts of things and much, much worse than that.”

He said tax and welfare packages have been “the norm” in Budgets and it was unusual in the last two years that they were not included.

“We didn’t do that largely because we were storing up financial reserves for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

“We’d like to get back to normal. That’s having a tax and welfare package in every Budget to protect people from the rise in the cost of living.”

Mr Varadkar said reducing the deficit is among priorities for the Budget “but not too quickly”.

He said: “There’ll be additional investment in public services and infrastructure and that’s been flagged already.

“There will be a tax package to help middle income people in particular.

“There will be a welfare and pensions package, and also there’ll be a package to help business, particularly those sectors that are not fully open yet and need a bit more help.

“That will all be negotiated between now and Budget today, I’m not going to put the figures on it at this stage.”

He said it was “not decided yet” when asked if the welfare package would include increases for all social welfare recipients or just those on the State pension.