Joan Burton has no intention of ‘standing back’ in election battle after debate criticism

The embattled Labour leader has come out fighting after criticism of her performance in this week’s TV election debate. Joan Burton says she has no intention of “standing back” and “doing a little bit of Downton Abbey and the tea cups”.

The Tánaiste also turned the tables on the call by the Social Democrats for no tax cuts and said the new party was “completely mistaken” not to give some relief back to low-paid workers.

As the election campaign enters its last full week, Ms Burton dismissed suggestions her performance on the seven-way debate had “endangered” any Labour candidates trying to get elected.

A selection of straw polls after the Monday night debate had put into question Ms Burton’s performance during the debate, despite a strong defence of her contribution put up by her campaign team afterwards.

Asked yesterday if her excessive use of hands during the debate had “endangered” Labour candidates and if she felt “guilty”, Ms Burton replied: “Lots of male colleagues have peculiarities, mannerisms that not everybody cares for. But clearly when women are involved in politics, they’re probably scrutinised to an extraordinarily detailed degree.

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“Yes I feel passionate about politics, I don’t regard that as a fault. I regard that as what drives my concern to make people’s lives better.

“Other people may feel there’s something not appropriate in a woman not standing back and sitting down and doing a little bit of Downton Abbey and the tea cups, that’s not me.”

The party leader said she was “very confident” Labour candidates would do well on voting day.

Labour yesterday launched its five-year plan for the arts industry, promising to put €150m into the sector. It promised to set up a new arts capital fund for development of facilities, venues, and arts spaces.

The artists tax exemption limit threshold would also be raised from €40,000 to €50,000 if Labour was returned, the party pledged.

The proposals received the backing from the sector yesterday, with approval being given by Galway Druid artistic director Garry Hynes.

The reconstruction of the country also had to be of Ireland’s spirit as well as the economy, pointed out the award-winning director.

Junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin also pointed out the arts brought life and business to towns and cities.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Elsewhere, Ms Burton took issue with the Social Democrats’ refusal to reduce taxes for workers if they were to enter government.

The newly formed party has no plans to alter the USC or income tax levels if they were in government, and have criticised other parties for over-promising on tax cuts and spending over the next five years.

Labour, however, pledged to reduce USC for workers earning up to €70,000.

Ms Burton noted lower paid workers would not get any relief under the Social Democrats plans, outlined by Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly this week.

“He [Mr Donnelly] ruled out any kind of tax relief, or tax reduction for people on low incomes, particularly low-income workers coming into the labour force.

“I think they’re completely mistaken in that. Its part of growing the economy to give some relief from the USC. We’re doing that in a very careful way, over five years, of reducing and eliminating it for people earning up to €72,000, starting with the lowest income people. That’s not any of their priority.”

She said there were only “vague” references to plans to reduce the cost of services but that there was no plan there.

A new poll yesterday put Labour at 9%, up one, following a difficult few days for the party. However, the survey of voters was carried out during the period of a separate election TV debate last week and did not include the one on RTÉ this week.

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