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These are the six areas Enda and Joan want to prioritise from now until 2016

From access to childcare to disposing bank assets, they’ve covered a lot in the Statement of Priorities.

Updated 22.50pm

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D., and the Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE GOVERNMENT HAS this evening published its Statement of Government Proprieties for the remaining life-time of the government.

This includes a wide-range of commits that will come into effect over the remaining life-time of the government.

The 52% marginal rate of tax will come under the microscope, as will zero-hour contracts.

The construction sector will be gently prodded to increase activity, families entering employment will see increased access to childcare supports, and a Strategic Banking Corporation will provide €4 billion in funding to SMEs.

“In the coming months there will be an unrelenting focus on the domestic economy by attracting more finance and investment to small Irish companies and to expand their presence in foreign markets,” Taoiseach Enda Kenny said this evening.

Tánaiste Joan Burton stressed the need to ensure that “the recovery works for the many and not just the few, and that the burden borne by the people of this country has not been in vain”.

File Pics The seasonally adjusted figure for the number of people on the Live Register has fallen below 400,000 for the first time since May 2009. Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

1. Strengthening the Domestic Economy & Prioritising New Jobs for the Unemployed

As the Taoiseach said during his speech earlier, “jobs, jobs and more jobs” is what the government sees as key to our economic recovery. It plans to create 100,000 by 2016, return the country to “full employment”, and grow the economy by more than 2% each year.

This includes the targeting of sector for investment – construction, tourism, agri-business, and retail.

Some of these are long-term plans, which will not come into fruition until long after the 2016 General Election. These include a new tourism strategy aimed at creating 50,000 jobs over 10 years, and a €4 billion injection into the agri-food sector to be implemented over seven years and creating 25,000 jobs.

Planning will be supported with a new Bill to enable a ‘faster recovery and higher standards’.

The document also expresses caution about any additional renewable energy and climate charge targets, saying that any new ones must be “fair and realistic”.

In the shorter term, the Pathways to Work Strategy will assist in bringing the the unemployment rate below 10% by 2016, with the added facet of addition funding for the JobPlus wage subsidy scheme.

Three major investment programmes were also noted:

  • €4 billion in low-cost funding to small and medium-sized businesses using the Strategic Banking Corporation
  • €6 billion from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund for investment in enterprise and infrastructure
  • €1.2 billion in Cohesion funding from the EC to “support growth”.

Other measures include:

  • A new Entrepreneurship Policy aimed at achieving a 25% increase in start-ups over the next five years.
  • New advanced manufacturing facilities and office space in specific
  • regional locations
  • Enable local authorities to incentivise the use and development of vacant sites

Christmas Scenes Shoppers Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

2. Delivering Better Living and Working Standards

Some of this section will provide welcome reading – a reduction in the 52% marginal rate of tax, a committal to a full retention of the Free Travel Scheme, and a review of zero-hour contracts.

The document outlines a number of measures already mooted, such as the Low Pay Commission, Collective Barging legislation, and over 70s GP care.

It will now also address the pensions gap between “men and woman, the old and the young, and the public and private sectors” with the introduction of a universal supplementary pension scheme.

‘Extended eligibility and rebalanced parental contributions for families making their way into employment’ will be used to increase access to subsidised childcare and afterschool places.

The Household Benefits Package, previously cut, will now be increased by €100 in Budget 2015.

Also in Budget 2015, the Government “we will announce a tax reform plan to be delivered over a number of budgets to reduce the 52% tax rate on low- and middle-income earners in a manner that maintains the highly progressive nature of the Irish tax system”.

The reduction won’t be immediate, it seems.

The Government will also a four-point plan in this area, including the tax review, the Low Pay Commission, the increased childcare supports, and also “child income supports such that those moving from welfare to work will retain payments for children to ensure that people are better off in work“.

Other measures include:

  • A committal to complete the programme of reform and modernisation of the Workplace Relations bodies, including enactment of the Workplace Relations Bill
  • A study of the prevalence and impact of zero-hour contracts 
  • To strengthen the independent advice service offered to distressed borrowers

Construction Industry Starts Again Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

3. Improving Housing Availability & Affordability

“We have moved from a situation of building far too many houses to building far too few, particularly in Dublin,” the document highlights.

With that, a number of commitments will be meant to cautiously increase building activity to get the market back on its feet.

The Government itself will commit to increasing the supply of social and affordable housing, including weighing up options to be outlined in the Social Housing Strategy 2014, sourcing “significant new sources of finance”, and the development of a cost-rental model, previously proposed by the NESC.

Part V of the Planning and Development Act will also be reformed, something already mooted.

“We will encourage phased development of projects where the immediately viable elements of a scheme can proceed in the early phases, subject to the principles of sustainable development overall,” the document reads.

Other measures include:

  • “Help To Build” schemes for the development of private market affordable housing will be analysed, and also a “New Buy” scheme for assistance in mortgage availability for first-time buyers.
  • Attempting to attract new mortgage lenders into the market
  • NAMA will be tasked with maximising the delivery of residential housing units and commercial space in Dublin under the Strategic Development Zone
  • “Use-it-or-lose-it” planning permissions will be introduced

File Photo The National Asset Management Agency has announced its biggest ever transaction to date. NAMA said it has sold its Project Eagle portfolio of loans to Cerberus Capital Management, subject to contract Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

4. Responsible and Sustainable Management of the Public Finances

Although it is number four on this list, ensuring that the “mistakes of the past will not be repeated” is identified here as the Government’s primary commitment.

It notes that it is anxious to ensure that NAMA is wound up as quickly as possible, and notes that 80% of its assets will be disposed of by the end of 2016.

We also find the only mention of the European Union in this statement here, where the Government aims to ensure the Union focuses on “jobs, stability, and growth”.

“Both Government parties will work through their membership of the largest European
political families – the EPP and PES – to ensure that growth and job creation are
at the heart of EU’s agenda,” the statement adds.

A “Comprehensive Review of Expenditure” will also be completed ahead of Budget 2015 to ensure what little available money there is will be spent correctly.

A small pat on the back now – the statement reads that the state’s investment in Bank of Ireland “shows how careful management and disposal of our bank holdings” can result in a positive return for the taxpayer.

“The disposal of the remaining bank assets will reduce this sector’s contribution to the State’s excessive debt levels,” it reads.

Culture Festivals Nights Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

5. Rebuilding Trust in Politics & Public Institutions

The rebuilding of trust in politics and public institutions is also a priority for Government.

They said that they have already taken action on this by:

  • Introducing legislation to protect whistleblowers
  • Restoring the Freedom of Information Act
  • Reducing the number of local authorities from 114 to 31
  • Increasing the number of Dail sitting days
  • Cutting the pay and allowances of all politicians and to effectively ban corporate donations.

The Constitutional Convention, which resulted in three refernda being committed to, is also evidence to this effect, they said.

For the future they hope to complete the enactment of the Freedom of Information legislation, commence and provide guidance on the new Protected Disclosures Act and enact the Lobbyists Bill by year end.

The independent Garda Authority will be introduced by the end of the year which “will restore confidence and accountability to a policing system on which our country depends”.

Reports on how to reform the civil service will also be published.

Other commitments made include:

  • to become full members of the Open Government Partnership
  • publish the state’s first Open Data plan to leverage the economic and participatory potential of open data.
  • legislate to give NewERA, which manages the State’s shareholder function in relation to commercial semi-state companies, the responsibility to provide advice to the relevant Minister on appointments to the semi-state boards.
  • Publish details of all appointments to State Boards.
  • Complete a review of the operation of the Judicial Appointments System by the end of 2014.
  • Enact legislation to give effect to the 1979 decision of the Irish people to extend the Seanad electorate to all graduates.

In advance of a referendum on same-sex marriage in the first half of 2015, they will
reform and modernise family law through the Children and Family Relationships
Bill.

A commitment was also made to “treat asylum seekers with the humanity and respect they deserve”, and added that they are committed to addressing the current system of Direct Provision.

The length of time the applicant spends in the system is to be addressed through the establishment of a single applications procedure.

The Government will also establish an independent Working Group to report to Government on improvements with the protection process, including Direct Provision and supports for asylum seekers.

Events and commemorations related to Ireland’s path to independence will also be organised, said Government, adding that it will be done in a way that is “respectful to the different traditions and communities on the island of Ireland”.

Government also committed that local authorities will retain 80% of the proceeds the local property tax from 2015, with the option to vary the rate by up to 15%.

The Primary Care Strategy will be introduced by this September, as will the a consultation paper on increasing the autonomy and accountability of our schools.

Theresa Villiers Visits Ireland Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

6. Protecting and Enhancing Peace in Northern Ireland

The economy and political stability in Northern Ireland are also high priorities for the Government.

The Government said they are “deeply concerned at the tensions and street disturbances” that have re-emerged in Northern Ireland in recent years, alongside ongoing dissident paramilitary activity.

“Together, political deadlock and civil disturbances threaten the hard-won peace and
Northern Ireland’s future economic and social development,” they said.

The Government added that they remain “fully committed” to the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

“We will work closely with the British Government to support the efforts of
the political parties in Northern Ireland to reach agreement on the issues of parades, flags
and dealing with the issues of the past,” they said.

Further development of North-South co-operation in health, tourism, and economic development is also expected.

Additional reporting Christina Finn 

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