ADDRESSING Shannon Chamber of Commerce members at Dromoland Castle last week, prospective future Taoiseach Enda Kenny vowed he would scrap the air travel tax completely if Fine Gael take power.
He also said he wants to see the IMF and ECB “sent packing” in the next few years.
While he has failed to convince many and his personal approval ratings have never reached any great heights, he is still two to one on favourite to succeed Brian Cowen as Taoiseach.
As he took to the podium, Chamber president Damien Gleeson joked that the Fine Gael leader was following in the footsteps of Mr Cowen who addressed the Chamber the previous year. “I’ve no intention in following in the footsteps of Brian Cowen, he has led the country in the wrong direction,” Mr Kenny retorted.
During his speech, Mr Kenny claimed to be in tune with the realities of the recession, saying he had recently spoken to a young man in Charleville who was emigrating because he didn’t want all the money he pays in tax to be spent on paying for “reckless banking”. He also spoke about meeting the mother of a young man who died by suicide and an increase in the number dying in this way was one of the sad consequences of the economic collapse.
Mr Kenny said that he had been part of the Government that had introduced the 12.5% rate of corporation tax and that it had been opposed by Fianna Fáil.
He said that if returned to power, there is no way Fine Gael would allow the rate be interfered with. “The Irish people voted for the Lisbon Treaty and it stated that taxes are a matter for individual countries. I won’t take advice or lectures for any other European countries who say it should be shifted,” the Opposition leader said.
It is critical that the country’s economic soverignity is restored as quickly as possible, he claimed. “We support a €6 billion budget adjustment this year and a €9bn adjustment over the next three years because it is the only way for Ireland to become economically independent again. To those who argue that we should lengthen the period of adjustment I say; Ireland must not remain under the remit of the IMF for one day longer than absolutely necessary.”
He also said he wanted agencies such as the ECB and IMF to be “sent packing from these shores in the shortest space of time and to have the joy of rebuilding the nation given back to the people”.
The Mid-West has been let down by the Government, Mr Kenny claimed. “When it comes to regional development, one thing this Government and its agencies have excelled at is producing glossy reports, plans and forming task forces. Fine Gael held a business forum consultation meeting with local businesses saying they were tired of the same Government bodies discussing the same problems that have existed for decades. I couldn’t agree more. We thought there might be action after the devastating job losses in Dell and the formation of the subsequent task force headed by Denis Brosnan. But nothing changed, Government didn’t act and people grew more frustrated.
“In response to the Dell job losses and the delayed formation of the Mid-West Task Force, Fine Gael published its own ‘Task Force’ report for the Mid-West Region in February 2009 in which we outlined 13 different proposals to get the region back on track again.”
Mr Kenny was critical of the cut to the minimum wage. “Before this Budget, the Taoiseach’s salary was 13 times the minimum wage. After this Budget, his salary will be 14 times the minimum wage. Also buried in the numbers is an €8 per week reduction in the income of widows, carers, the blind and the disabled. Let me be very clear about this, there is absolutely no economic, social or moral case for cutting the income of vulnerable groups such as these.”
He described Fine Gael as “a party whose plan to rebuild the country, rejects the simplistic notions of both left and right. A party whose only allegiance is to the people of Ireland because it owes no favours to vested interests and has no institutional links to powerful unions.”
Mr Kenny said his party would “take a scalpel” to the cost of Government, would try to remove impediments to employers wanting to take on staff and would introduce a substantial reform for the public service, which would result in services being delivered “effectively and efficiently”.