Leo should be given enough time to usher in real change

Ireland is about to enter a brave new world with the youngest Taoiseach in our history, and a man who has not been afraid to highlight his right-of-centre economic credentials throughout his political career.

In this country, having right-wing economic views is viewed by many as a fatal flaw and something that one should be ridiculed for. Hence, Leo Varadkar potentially represents a breath of fresh air, but already some people are not happy.

Mr Varadkar’s economic policy platform basically revolves around providing some assistance to the real victims of the economic crash — those who get up every morning and do a hard day’s work and get taxed to a punitive degree.

Such people get nothing for nothing in a society where more and more media time is given to those who want to pay for nothing and who are open to all ideas — provided they agree with their own narrow agenda.

This year, workers in Ireland will pay over €20bn in income tax (including Universal Social Charge) and it will account for around 40% of the total tax take.

Back in 2006, when we had a similar level of employment in the economy, the income tax take was €12.4bn and income tax accounted for just over 27% of the total tax take. The burden of taxation on those who work has increased dramatically over the past decade and it is time they got some relief. Lifting the entry point into the top rate of tax would help.

The other elements of Mr Varadkar economic plan, insofar as we know it, include increased spending on infrastructure, sorting out the health service, and adopting a harder line on the welfare system.

He is also in favour of putting money back in the pockets of public sector workers, because he knows that having a motivated and talented public sector is crucial to the delivery of better public services.

The challenge here, of course, is that one does not necessarily lead to the other.

To me, this all sounds like very sensible stuff, but delivery will be difficult on many different fronts. The domestic political background is not conducive to, and does not reward, strong policy-making. It remains to be seen how long Fianna Fáil will keep the party going.

In relation to the health service, he discovered in the past just how difficult it is to implement any meaningful reform in the face of powerful vested interest groups. This won’t change.

The biggest challenge of all is, of course, global developments. US president Donald Trump is riding roughshod over diplomatic relationships the US established over decades and is creating a very fractured world at a time when sensible people never needed to be more united in the face of numerous threats, some of which have been highlighted in London and Manchester in recent weeks.

There is also the big issue of Brexit, which is now capable of going in any conceivable direction. This obviously poses immense potential challenges for Ireland on an economic level, but without the UK at the EU table, Ireland will be quite exposed.

I was amused last week to hear Finance Minister Michael Noonan having a go at the EU over its treatment of smaller countries and bias towards larger countries.

The EU has ridden roughshod over Ireland since 2007 but, having kowtowed to Brussels since 2011, it is strange that as he exits the stage, Mr Noonan is now having a go.

It is a bit late. Enda Kenny probably won’t follow suit, as the possibility of a lucrative role in Brussels will most likely keep him quiet on the obvious injustices that Ireland fell victim to following the crash.

New leadership is good, as the old variety had become very stale.

I hope Mr Varadkar is given sufficient time to carry out his agenda and that the most talented people in the party are given top jobs and that ministerial positions, in general, are allocated on the basis of real talent, which in some cases was not the situation under the old regime.


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