Irish premier promises five years of income tax cuts

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has promised five years of income tax cuts as well as more spending on education and health.

He said it is “unfair” people on average incomes pay the highest rate of tax.

Over the next five budgets, Mr Varadkar said his government will increase the point at which people pay the top rate of tax from 35,000 euro (£31,000) to 50,000 euro (£44,000) for a single person or 100,000 euro (£88,000) for a two-income couple.

The plan will depend on the current Irish Government arrangement where Fine Gael relies on a confidence-and-supply deal with Fianna Fail.

There has been speculation over whether an extension to that deal will be agreed.

But in his keynote address to his Fine Gael party’s annual conference in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said he is confident the deal with Fianna Fail will continue.

An agreed extension will avoid Ireland heading for a winter general election.

“I am confident we can secure a deal to provide political stability,” he said. “We will need it as we lead our country through Brexit in the year ahead.”

Brexit got just a brief mention from the Taoiseach during his speech at the Citywest Convention Centre.

He made no specific mention of the UK’s draft withdrawal deal, but said: “Let’s get on to the next stage, which is managing the transition period and negotiating a new deep and close relationship with the United Kingdom.”

He pledged his Government has “no hidden agenda”.

He said: “Our only red line has ever been to protect the Good Friday Agreement: peace in Britain and Ireland, powersharing in Northern Ireland, ever closer co-operation North and South, and above all no hard border.

Fine Gael conference
Fine Gael conference

“No matter what happens across the water, Ireland will continue to be at the heart of the common European home we helped to build.

“And we will do the best that we can to build a new relationship with our nearest neighbour.”

Mr Varadkar also touched on Ireland’s housing crisis.

He said it is his party’s mission to ensure home ownership becomes “affordable and achievable again for many who today feel it is beyond their reach”.

He claimed the previous Fianna Fail government left broke banks, ghost estates and hundreds of thousands of people in negative equity as his party’s inheritance.

But he said the biggest social housing programme in decades is under way, during which more than 100,000 homes will be provided over the next 10 years for people on the housing list.

I've just stepped off the stage at @FineGael's 79th Árd Fheis. #FGAF18

You can watch my speech back here:

— Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo) November 17, 2018

“When you are in a housing crisis you build as many new homes as you can, as quickly as you can, by any means that you can, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

Mr Varadkar also made big promises for health and education spending.

He said next year, education spending will increase to almost 11 billion euro (£9.8 billion), which will see 5,000 extra teachers in two years and the lowest pupil-teacher ratio ever in primary schools as well as investment in school buildings.

And he said next year’s health budget will be 17 billion euro (£15.1 billion), which he described as the “highest in the history of the state”.