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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 15 November, 2018
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Leo Varadkar promises to cut taxes for middle income earners and bring in paid family parental leave

Addressing the Fine Gael Conference this evening in Cavan, the Taoiseach said his party would solve the housing crisis.

6354 Fine Gael_90529023 Leo Varadkar accepts the plaudits of the crowd before beginning his speech this evening Source: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

IN HIS FIRST speech to a Fine Gael conference as party leader, Leo Varadkar has promised to reduce taxes for middle-income earners by raising the standard cut-off point.

In a departure from tradition, the Taoiseach delivered his speech at the beginning of the conference due to the scheduled Saturday speech clashing with the Ireland versus Denmark game tomorrow evening.

Addressing a packed room in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan the Taoiseach said it is “not fair that people on middle incomes pay income tax at the highest rate”.

That means the state takes almost 50% of everything you earn above that threshold, including any overtime you get, any pay increase you earn, or any extra hours you work. That’s not fair, and we’re going to change it. Fine Gael believes in rewarding work.
So in the budget we raised the standard cut-off point, and we will do so again in the next one – and the one after that – and the one after that.

Making life easier for families is a priority for his party, he explained, stating that he believes in a greater “work-life balance and workplace flexibility”.

Shared parental leave

Pointing to the introduction of paternity leave, Varadkar said Fine Gael want to go further by introducing paid family leave that can be shared between parents in the first year of their child’s life.

“We are determined to make it a reality. Because the family is the basic unit of society,” said Varadkar.

Continuing to increase the minimum wage and enhancing employment rights is also on the wish list, as is ensuring that every worker is enrolled in a personal pension fund.

The Taoiseach used his speech to pledge that his party won’t stop until it solves the housing and homelessness crisis.

He hit out at “critics and cynics” who claim the housing crisis won’t be solved.

“I don’t believe them. Yes, there are major challenges with housing and homelessness, and no, they won’t be solved overnight. But we have a plan, the plan is working, and we won’t stop until we succeed. Because we believe that everyone should have a home. And we believe that every working person should be able to aspire to own one,” he said.

He said the same people said not so long ago that Ireland “would never get back on its feet– that we would never get people working again”.

Well, they were wrong, completely wrong.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the Irish people… and the right policy decisions we made and you supported… we achieved what seemed impossible at the time,” he added.

The mention of the crisis may do little to appease Father Peter McVerry who tweeted his astonishment that homelessness did not feature on the conference’s agenda.

There are big plans for the health service under Leo Varadkar’s leadership.

Varadkar said the next decade must also be about reform as well as resources – and it must be based on the all-party Slaintecare report, he said.

“We will implement a ten-year plan to modernise and streamline our health service. Because a country that spends the fifth highest in the world on healthcare deserves to have a top-tier health service,” he said.

Brexit

On Brexit, Varadkar reiterated his that there must be no border with Northern Ireland, something he says his European counterparts also agree with.

“There can be no return to the border on our island. In my conversations with European presidents and prime ministers I have received considerable support for the challenges we face. And tonight, I want to reassure all border communities that we are listening to you, we hear your concerns,. and we promise you that we will safeguard your rights, and all that we have achieved. I know this won’t be easy, and that all these matters are not entirely under our control,” he said.

But remember this: four times in our history we decided as a country to take a different road to the United Kingdom. We did it in 1921, when we became independent and we were the first country to leave the Empire. We did it in 1948, when we became a Republic. We did it again in 1979 when we broke the link with sterling and floated our own currency. And then we did it again in 2001 when we joined the Euro without Britain.

Varadkar told his delegates that “Fine Gael has never been, and never will be, a party of privilege”. “Fine Gael is a party of aspiration, a party of enterprise, a party of opportunity, and a party of hope.”

“I want to give hope to individuals and families. I want to reward work and enterprise, encourage aspiration, and remove barriers to progress,” he said.

Reflecting on his first few days as Taoiseach he said it was understandable the focus around the world was that the son of an immigrant could become the leader of a country.

How the son of a father from India and a mother from Co Waterford – without any family or political connections – rose to become the leader of the largest party in the state. What it said about our respect for diversity, our disregard for prejudice, our willingness to see people as individuals, and our fundamental fairness as a people.

His partners in government – the Independent Alliance – have had a tough week.

The Taoiseach offered out a hand of support in tonight’s speech, stating that his party are working “so well with our partners, the Independent Alliance and independent ministers”.

Without them, we could not achieve what we have achieved in the past year. I thank them for it and assure them of our commitment to making this government work and making it last.

Varadkar also had one message for the people watching at home (his speech was broadcast on RTÉ in case you missed it).

Speaking to them through the telly, he said:

Tá an rialtas ar bhur dtaobh! This government is on your side.

Reverting to his favourite buzz phrase to close his speech, the Taoiseach asked the people at home to join him in building the ”Republic of Opportunity” together.

Read: ‘I don’t see why not’: Jail time could be the penalty for substandard accommodation

Read: Poll: Do you use a dishwasher at work?

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