Key policy unveiled by Varadkar lashed by unions and Fianna Fáil

Leo Varadkar has hit his first major stumbling block in the Fine Gael leadership race after a key policy — banning strike action by emergency services after a Labour Court recommendation is issued — was lambasted by unions and opposition parties.

Mr Varadkar revealed the plan as he also called for elderly people to move out of houses to make space for younger families, for water charge refunds to be made “this year”, outlined a new pension system, and said he will merge USC with PRSI to create a new public fund.

Speaking at the formal launch of his policy plans should he become taoiseach, Mr Varadkar said his priorities will be to severely limit the right to strike for emergency services, saying the public should no longer be “inconvenienced” and that the Labour Court must be “the final arbiter” in disputes.

Mr Varadkar said the move “will not impinge on the right to strike until a Labour Court determination is made” and that the Oireachtas will decide what “essential services” means.

He suggested air traffic control employees, “potentially” bus and Luas workers, and some parts of the health service should be included on any list.

“For example, if there were an air traffic control strike in Ireland it would shut down the country,” he said.

On whether buses and Luas workers will be included, he said “potentially, but look, that’s something for the Oireachtas to decide”.

Asked if nurses and doctors could be affected by the plan, Mr Varadkar said: “It wouldn’t do health services across the board, but certainly emergency services. But not across the board.”

The plan was heavily criticised by unions and opposition parties, with National Rail and Bus Union general secretary Dermot O’Leary describing Mr Varadkar as “Thatcher” and Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary telling the Irish Examiner his party will not support the plan.

Other measures in Mr Varadkar’s policy document include:

  • Merging USC and PRSI to create a new public fund which could be used to encourage elderly people living in large homes to move into smaller accommodation with care support, which he said are “not nursing homes”, freeing up space for young families;
  • Ensuring water charge refunds are given “this year”;
  • Allowing ministers to bring in external expert help on key issues, a measure critics believe risks privatising the Government;
  • Creating a new pension system ensuring pensions rise by more than inflation;
  • Reducing the “too high” marginal tax rate and increasing the national debt target from 45% to 55%, “which is within existing EU rules”;
  • Allowing universities that source over 50% of their funding privately greater spending
  • Increasing the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance by 50% in two years.

Asked about his views on abortion, Mr Varadkar said he would support abortion in cases of rape but declined to say if he would back a referendum based on the Citizens’ Assembly’s “advice”.

Before the launch, Mr Varadkar said he would be “pro-business” if elected.

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