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Varadkar promises tax cuts for next three budgets

Taoiseach delivers first party conference speech and highlights middle-income earners

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivering his first party leader speech at the Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, last night. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during his address at Sliabh Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised to continue with the Government’s programme of tax cuts for the next three budgets.

He said the entry rate for the top rate of tax would be raised in next year’s Budget “and the one after that – and the one after that”.

Mr Varadkar was delivering his first party conference speech to Fine Gael delegates in Cavan on Friday night in a live televised address which had been moved from its traditional Saturday night slot because of the Ireland vs Denmark soccer match.

Mr Varadkar said that with the lowest earners having been taken out of the tax net completely, the Government will now focus on reducing taxes for middle-income earners.

“It’s not fair that people on middle incomes pay income tax at the highest rate . . . That’s not fair, and we’re going to change it.”

Speaking to an audience of an estimated 1,500 delegates at the Slieve Russell Hotel, Mr Varadkar said “the experience of the last 30 years shows that we are the only party that can be trusted on the economy, trusted to put the long-term national interest over short-term political gain”.

Fine Gael, he said, “has never been, and never will be, a party of privilege. Fine Gael is a party of aspiration, a party of enterprise, a party of opportunity, and a party of hope. These are our values.”

‘Respect for diversity’

He said his election had been interpreted around the world as a message about Ireland’s “respect for diversity, our disregard for prejudice, our willingness to see people as individuals, and our fundamental fairness as a people”.

However, he said he “also took something more from it. It told me what my mission must be as leader and as Taoiseach”.

Every day, he said, he thinks about “giving everybody the same opportunities and chances in life that I had. It is what inspires and drives me forward in my work.

“I know, that those to whom much has been given, much is expected. Much is expected of this Government. And I promise you tonight, we will prevail.”

He struck a sober note on Brexit, saying that there would be “tough calls and hard decisions ahead”.

However, he said he was conscious the conference was being held near to the Border. “And tonight, I want to reassure all Border communities that we are listening to you, we hear your concerns, and we promise you that we will safeguard your rights, and all that we have achieved,” he said. “I know this won’t be easy, and that all these matters are not entirely under our control.”

Tribute

After a shaky few days, Mr Varadkar paid tribute to the Independent Alliance. “Without them, we could not achieve what we have achieved in the past year. I thank them for it and assure them of our commitment to making this Government work and making it last,” he said.

He also name-checked a number of other parties, but not Sinn Féin.

“What marks us out as different is that we are willing to work with others in the Dáil. The Agreement with Fianna Fáil is working and the recent budget is testament to that. We also took on board the Green Party’s proposal to extend maternity leave to mothers who give birth to premature babies. And we are now working with the Labour Party to reduce the gender pay gap,” he said.

On policy, Mr Varadkar said that the Government would implement “a 10-year plan to modernise and streamline our health service” based on the Sláintecare report.

“A country that spends the fifth highest in the world on healthcare deserves to have a top-tier health service,” he said.

He said Ireland should be an “early adopter” of new technologies such as “robotics, artificial intelligence, driverless vehicles, renewable energy and smart grids” which he said “will change our world in the next 20 years in the way the internet and mobile phones did in the last”.

The conference continues all day Saturday.