Fine Gael in government will fix the public finances within three years without raising existing income tax rates, leader Enda Kenny vowed tonight.
The TD told 5,000 delegates at his party’s 75th Árd Fheis that Fianna Fáil should have anticipated the economic downturn and taken evasive action earlier.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s emergency Budget and with 375,000 in dole queues, Mr Kenny warned that tax increases and crude spending cuts will not be enough to balance the Government’s books.
“Let me be straight – no country has ever taxed its way back to recovery,” the TD told his audience in his televised 30-minute presidential address at Dublin’s Citywest Hotel.
Setting out Fine Gael’s priorities in Government, Mr Kenny vowed to return the public finances to health by 2012 – without increasing the standard or top rates of income tax.
He also set a target of restoring Ireland to the top five most competitive countries in the world within three years.
The TD also reiterated party proposals to create 100,000 new jobs by the end of 2013 through investment in infrastructural projects.
Mr Kenny said he believed that Ireland can recover fully from this recession inside five years.
“These targets are all achievable if driven by a new Fine Gael Government with new ideas and the energy and the commitment to do the job,” he explained.
He added: “Be assured that under my leadership, Fine Gael will step up to the mark.
“We have the people, the ideas and the ambition. We will accept the responsibility of leading this country to a strong and prosperous future.”
He claimed that Fianna Fáil should have anticipated the economic crisis and taken pre-emptive action before it was too late.
“While I recognise that global factors are partly to blame for the downturn, the reality is that mismanagement by our own Government has meant that Ireland is suffering much more than other countries.”
“Make no mistake about this – Fianna Fáil are responsible for the state of our domestic woes.”
He added: “When our economy was strong, they squandered your money on wasteful projects, like e-voting machines, rather than investing in improving vital public services like schools and healthcare.
“Fine Gael’s alternative involves radical reform to eliminate wasteful spending and reduce bureaucracy.”
Mr Kenny said Fine Gael will not support the reintroduction of third level fees and will abolish the current registration fee system.
He reiterated the party’s proposal to force graduates to pay for their tuition through PRSI contributions over a 10-year period – thus creating a €500m annual education fund.
He vowed to establish a policy foundation to tap into ideas streaming into the party from people all over the world.
Fine Gael has devised a plan for the health service based on models in the Netherlands and Canada, Mr Kenny said.
“Our goal is clear: To give Ireland a world-class health service where everyone is treated fairly, regardless of income, and where the patient is central to that service,” he told delegates.
Mr Kenny said Tuesday’s Budget must not destroy the spirit of communities and the voluntary care provided for the voiceless, the defenceless, the aged and the intellectually challenged.