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Joan Burton says Fianna Fáil voted for HUGE tax increases - but that's not entirely true

The Tánaiste’s claimed that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin backed €4.5 billion in tax increases last week – but that’s not entirely accurate.

AT THE LABOUR party conference in Killarney last weekend, Joan Burton made several references to Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin having voted for a Dáil motion last week that called for higher taxes in order to fund the reversal of budget cuts.

The Tánaiste made the claims in media appearances on Sunday morning in an attempt to paint the two opposition parties as being part of a so-called “coalition of chaos”.

The private members’ motion she was talking about was tabled by the Technical Group’s Richard Boyd-Barrett and debated in the Dáil last Tuesday and Wednesday. The motion called for the abolition of all tax measures “that are regressive in nature” including USC on anyone earning less than €35,000.

In order to fund the reversal of a number of cuts imposed over the last four years including child benefit, dole for young unemployed and the respite care grant, the motion called for “taxes that focus on wealth, profits and top earners”.

burton twip 1 Source: RTÉ Player

Speaking to RTÉ’s The Week in Politics on Sunday morning, Burton made reference to this motion:

There was a motion put before the house this week in relation to a future Budget and most of the very modest programme which was outlined in the resolution was €4.5 billion-a-year in extra taxes in order to provide for additional spending. Now all I would say to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael [we think she actually meant Sinn Féin] is we have come through four very difficult budgets.Before that Fianna Fáil in government went through incredibly harsh budgets and they’re now saying – and they were voting on Wednesday night – to just have tax increases, in effect, on basically anyone earning about €35,000-a-year-a tax, an increase of anywhere from 10 per cent to 17 per cent a year. To me, that’s simply not on.

burton twip Source: RTÉ Player

When pressed on whether Labour would do business with either of the two main opposition parties after the next election, Burton repeated the claim:

We did get a glimpse last week of what Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are proposing and what they’re proposing is very large tax increases on people on middle incomes, above say €35,000 and certainly we’re not going into any alliance that would do that.

The Tánaiste repeated the claim during a doorstep interview with journalists towards the end of the conference yesterday afternoon. She said:

Then, as I said last night, you look at the kind of chaos that’s there in the opposition, it’s not particularly appetising at all. We had a small example of it this week in the Dáil when we had a motion where the opposition, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, voted in an extra €4.5 billion roughly of annual tax increases in order to finance a set of proposals that were in a private members motion.It didn’t make any sense to me and okay, they’ll just say ‘it’s private members, we’ll vote for anything’. But actually I don’t think you can casually decide you’re going to vote to really significantly increase income tax on, for instance, somebody earning more than €35,000 a year. You know, it doesn’t make sense to me.

Labour - 68th National Conference. Pic Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with what the Tánaiste said on both TWIP and to journalists. It’s not entirely true.

In fact there was no such vote on the motion put forward by the Technical Group. This is because the government amended the motion and inserted its own, which generally highlighted its achievements over the past four years in creating employment, maintaining core social welfare rates and growing the economy.

The motion also noted that the aggregate cost of the measures proposed by the Technical Group would be €4.25 billion and would involve a range of tax increases.

It was this motion which was subject to a Dáil vote and which Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin opposed. So TDs did not actually vote on the motion that was essentially proposing tax increases on those earning over €35,000.

Furthermore, Fianna Fáil explicitly stated during the course of the debate on the original motion that the party was not supportive of the Technical Group’s proposal.

Fianna Fail Michael McGrath. Pictured Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Here’s what the party’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said:

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to his debate. I welcome the fact that Deputy Boyd Barrett and the Technical Group have put down the motion to trigger a debate on a number of important issues relating to income inequality, poverty, the public finances and the future economic development of this country. I regret that I cannot support the motion, although it is well-intentioned and submitted in good faith.

I can explain the reasons I cannot support it in its entirety and there are a number of reasons. It seems to be fixated on a level of income at €35,000; those earning below that would be entitled to a range of exemptions but people even marginally above that level would not be entitled to such exemptions. The way out of our economic difficulties is not to tax to death people who create wealth in this country. They are invariably employers and the self-employed, or those who generate economic activity.

However, a Labour party spokesperson today insisted that Fianna Fáil, in voting against the amended motion, had essentially rowed in behind the Technical Group motion.

They said: “This is yet another example of Fianna Fáil realising they have been caught on the wrong side of an argument and trying to rewrite history.

“The amended motion established that the aggregate cost of abolishing the Local Property Tax, Water Charges, and USC for those earning under €35,000, as well as reversing the social welfare measures, as proposed would be an estimated €4.25 billion; and that the required increase in the 40 per cent income tax rate would be 19 per cent, resulting in a marginal tax rate including USC and PRSI of 71 per cent for PAYE taxpayers which would reduce GDP and employment substantially.

28/02/2015. Labour - 68th National Conference. Pic Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

From their vote, it would seem that Fianna Fail reject this, but they have failed to provide any substantial reason as to why. If they were actually opposed to the Richard Boyd Barrett proposals, as they are claiming, there were other avenues open to them. For instance, they could have put down their own amendment and voted for that, or they could have abstained. They did neither.

“Instead, they fully rowed in behind Richard Boyd Barrett who proposed the tax-increasing measures, and voted in lock-step with him. The Dáil record could not be clearer on this.”

Unsurprisingly, Fianna Fáil does not agree and speaking to TheJournal.ie, McGrath accused the Tanaiste of “misleading the Irish people.

“It seems pretty clear that either she made a genuine mistake, or she is knowingly repeating an untrue statement,” he said.

“Tánaiste Burton has a position of serious responsibility – citizens have the right to expect that if our Deputy Prime Minister is making statements that they will have at least some basis in fact.

“On this issue she is 100% wrong. She needs to either produce some shred of evidence for her claim or accept that she got it wrong and retract her comments.”

What happened in Killarney: Here are 10 things we learned at the Labour conference

Read: Burton hits out at ‘bullying’ water protesters and hard-left in prime time speech

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Hugh O'Connell

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