Social Policy Ireland Essays On Leadership

HOUSING Minister Simon Coveney's first-time buyers grant will be abandoned if a review finds it has inflated house prices, Leo Varadkar has said.

  • Revealed: Leo Varadkar's big ideas if he wins Fine Gael leadership and becomes Taoiseach

    HOUSING Minister Simon Coveney's first-time buyers grant will be abandoned if a review finds it has inflated house prices, Leo Varadkar has said.

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In his policy plan aimed at helping him secure the Fine Gael leadership, the Social Protection Minister also commits to a referendum on abortion in 2018 and significant reform of the Universal Social Charge.

He has also said that those who have paid their water bills will be refunded "this year".

His document 'Taking Ireland Forward' also outlines plans to "restore" free education by increasing the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance by 50pc in two years.

Mr Varadkar wants to "substantially increase capital spending" about what is already planned in the 10 year National Development Plan.

The new capital plan will include long delayed projects like Dublin Metro, the M20 between Cork and Limerick, motorway access to the West and North-West and further investment in housing.

On public sector pay he said he supports an extension of the Lansdowne Road Agreement but the talks which get underway today must "secure public sector pensions on a more sustainable footing".

Addressing the media in Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin today Mr Varadkar repeated his mantra that Irish society cannot be split into "one group of people who pay for everything and another who want everything for free and think others should pay for it".

Tax cuts will also be part of his reign as Taoiseach, with marginal rates to be cut. He said nobody should be paying 50 cents on every €1 they earn.

In relation to first-time buyers, Mr Varadkar's document says that he is prepared to scrap the 'Help To Buy' introduced by his leadership rival Simon Coveney.

The document says: "The first time buyers' scheme will be phased out if the review finds it has had an inflationary effect on property prices.

"The money saved will be used to fund the construction of 'Housing with Care' for older people to incentivise retired people to move out of large homes."

A new pension system based on the controversial SSIA savings scheme is also among the key policies underpinning runaway leader Mr Varadkar's bid.

Priorities include a "new deal" for the self-employed which will see their tax credit and rates equalised with PAYE workers.

He also promises to extend “a form of Jobseekers Benefit” to the self-employed in the event they go out of business.

On pensions he wants to automatically enrol workers under 60 into a ‘MySaver’ personal pension savings account with contributions from employees and employers, and a bonus from the state similar to the SSIA.

There will be an opt-out for employees and an opt-in for the self-employed, homemakers, carers and others.

Ahead of his policy launch, Mr Varadkar told business body IBEC he intends to be a pro-business and pro-enterprise Taoiseach.

"At the heart of a successful economy must be a strong enterprise sector whose success is built on innovation, exports, entrepreneurship and competitiveness. A prudent budgetary policy will be central to this approach," Mr Varadkar said.

"The private sector will be asked to play its part in forging a new social contract. We want good jobs, not just more jobs."“So we will improve the quality of employment by enhancing employment rights, pensions and pay.

"Employment, in particular quality, secure and well-paid employment, is the best way to achieve financial independence and prosperity for our citizens."

Mr Varadkar’s policy document is called ‘Taking Ireland Forward’.

Among the promises are:

Income tax & talent  

  • Reduce high marginal rates of income tax to beat competitors in attracting and retaining professional talent.
  • No one should pay more than 50c out of any euro they earn.
  • Tax equality for the self-employed.

Europe & Brexit

  • Keep Ireland at the heart of Europe, in the common European home we helped to build.
  • Capitalise on opportunities arising from Brexit in financial services, inward investment, trade and the relocation of European agencies.
  • Minimise the impact on trade and travel through a new Free Trade Agreement.
  • Build new alliances in Europe with like-minded countries.


  • Substantially increase capital spending with a ten year National Development Plan.
  • Amend our National Debt target to 55% from 45% of GDP to allow greater capital investment.
  • Restore the golden rule in Europe which regards borrowing for capital investment as different to current spending

Mr Varadkar has refused to be drawn on whether he will re-appoint any of Simon Coveney's supporters to ministerial positions.

He also said he is not in a position to commit to a Cabinet that would have a 50/50 gender split.

At today's press launch he was repeatedly asked his personal position on abortion but said he has "an evolving view on this issue".

"I find it very difficult," he said, adding that while he would support a victim of rape who become pregnant seeking a termination, he does not back abortion on demand.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members' votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre Clune - MEP
Tony McLoughlin - TD
Alan Farrell - TD
Michael D'Arcy - TD
Tom Neville - TD
Josepha Madigan - TD
Pat Deering - TD
Jim Daly - TD
Brendan Griffin - TD
Ciaran Cannon - TD
Colm Brophy - TD
Peter Burke - TD
Fergus O'Dowd - TD
John Deasy - TD
Joe Carey - TD
Neale Richmond - Senator
Catherine Noone - Senator
Paddy Burke - Senator
Martin Conway - Senator
Michelle Mulherin - Senator
Maura Hopkins - Senator
Ray Butler - Senator
Frank Feighan - Senator
Maria Byrne - Senator
Joe O'Reilly - Senator
Kieran O'Donnell - Senator
Brian Hayes - MEP
Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *
Michael Noonan - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

Online Editors

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The contrast between the policy documents issued by the two Fine Gael leadership contenders is quite striking.

The document released by Simon Coveney over the weekend, fronted by a sombre and serious-looking Minister for Housing, his social concern furrowing his brow, is for the most part a broad-brush description of his approach to politics.

There are a few specific policy ideas studded through the text, but even then they are couched in the language of “I believe”, “I favour” and “I propose”.

Leo Varadkar’s document is different, for the most part. While it also introduces you to the candidate’s hinterland and his political credo, it is a far more specific and kinetic document than his rival’s. It contains pledges and promises – to that extent, it has more than a whiff of an election manifesto: it says “we will” rather than “I propose”.

But there are also substantial differences in tone, and in politics.

Coveney set out an approach grounded in Fine Gael’s “Just Society” tradition, emphasising a determination to address the “deep geographical and societal divisions” in Ireland.

“We should be a party for everyone that seeks to unite rather than to divide,” Coveney writes. “Our goal should be the creation of a society in which everyone can participate and an economy from which everyone can benefit.”

It would be forgivable to dismiss this as just politician’s guff. In the current context, it is an effort to differentiate him as the candidate leaning towards what used to be the social democratic wing of Fine Gael. It may be rhetoric, but it is not meaningless.

Varadkar’s document is significantly more substantial, and its signposts towards the policy of his government are clearer.

Hope and ambition

Its opening pages stress hope and ambition, enterprise and reward. It places the candidate squarely on the side of the “coping classes”, the people he has described as the ones who get up early in the morning.

Listen to Inside Politics

His message to the early risers is clear: “We will reduce our high marginal rates of income tax to bring us into line with our competitors in order to attract and retain professional talent. The marginal tax rate is too high and people start paying it at incomes that are far too modest. It discourages people from working extra hours, doing overtime or seeking a promotion. Nobody should pay more than 50 per cent in income tax and social insurance on any euro they earn.”

There are other people who get up early in the morning, of course – those bringing relatives to hospital appointments miles away, or those whose kids’ school is the other side of the city to their temporary accommodation in a hotel – but they are unlikely to benefit from cuts to the top rate of taxation.

Nor will Monday’s document, published on the day of talks on a new public service pay agreement, comfort the public sector trade unions. Varadkar says he will ban strikes in essential services, and signals that the pay talks should not be just about pay increases; he wants service improvements and pension reform, too.

Promise list

There are no costings in either document but Varadkar’s is more in need of them. Apart from the promise to cut the top rate of tax, his promises include:

* reduction in DIRT tax on savings and capital gains tax “to encourage enterprise and greater turnover in the property market”

* increased funding for the Town and Village Renewal Scheme

* pension increases

* more embassies and missions abroad

* a dedicated “urbanism fund”

* refund of water charges

* double the Government budget for arts, culture and sport over seven years and

*remuneration and supports for councillors (of course).

The detail here in all of the above is in stark contrast to the flimsy treatment of his plans for the health service, which merit only two paragraphs in the entire document.

There, it says: “The Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare is currently developing a long-term vision for healthcare and the direction of health policy. It is essential that the report of the committee be considered promptly by Government and a meaningful response be put forward for consideration by the Oireachtas.

Public health

“The health service of the future needs to be patient-centred and about better access and outcomes for patients. This will involve the further expansion and development of primary and social care, reformed structures, ICT and financial systems, sufficient capacity to satisfy unmet demand and a vigorous public health agenda,” his document stated.

And this from a man who was minister for health for two years.

Coveney supports tax cuts that would reduce to below 50 per cent the proportion of income tax paid by the highest earners; however, rather more gingerly, he described this as a “medium-term goal”.

The policy documents probably reflect accurately the campaign so far: Varadkar’s more detailed preparation and political abilities have put him in the driving seat. But his document, if not an election manifesto, certainly contains aspects of one. Would he seek to implement these plans if he becomes taoiseach next month? There’s not much point in them otherwise.

And where does that leave the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil, and the programme for government agreed with the Independents?


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