“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.”
AN interesting character, the aforementioned Edmund Burke.
A celebrated 17th century Irish politician, his mother was from Cork and his cousin was Nano Nagle, no less.
Burke was a statesman and philosopher who, after his death, managed to pull off the trick of being lauded by both liberals and conservatives. By the 20th century, he was widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.
In other words, a man after Leo Varadkar’s own heart, you would think.
But Burke’s above quote about empty promises is the charge that can be squarely laid at the door of our Taoiseach this week.
To borrow a phrase, never, in the field of human politics, has so much been promised to so many... and not even amounted to a hill of beans.
For years now, we’ve heard a barrage of promises from our leader about how he is going to lower our sky-high taxes. Next year. Next budget. After Brexit. On the second Sunday after the Spring Equinox. You get the picture.
And now, as we brace ourselves for a wealth of extra taxes coming our way, with no hope of any reduction in what we currently fork out — and with the next election only a matter of months away — the scales are starting to fall from our eyes.
The Taoiseach has conned us.
Let’s sift through the evidence:
Exhibit A: January, 2016, and a tweet ahead of the impending election: “5 years ago, thousands paid their first USC under Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael will abolish USC over the lifetime of the next Government.”
Hmmm. Last time I checked my pay slip, the USC hadn’t even been reduced, let alone abolished.
Exhibit B: November, 2018, and Leo, now Taoiseach, vows to introduce five years of tax cuts.
This time, his pledge went further than a brief tweet, as he stated that Fine Gael believed tax cuts “allow you to keep more of your money, the money you earn”.
Alright, a cynic might point out that his promises came in the wake of a budget that favoured increasing spending over reductions in taxes by a massive 11:1 ratio.
But hey, plebs like me lived in hope and took Leo at his word.
As they say, it’s the hope that kills you...
Exhibit C: March 23, 2019. At the Fine Gael national conference, Leo declared: “I believe we need to reduce income taxes further (sic).”
This time, and just six months ago, lest we forget, he was more specific: “Over the next five years, we will increase the point at which people pay the higher rate of tax to €50,000 for a single person, and €100,000 for a double income couple.”
Ah, that five-year thing again. Jam tomorrow, I think it’s called.
Still, there’s never a bad time to make a start on all these pledges, so perhaps we can look forward to a few extra euro in our pay packets in the budget on October 8?
Er, not so...
It seems that fears of a global economic downturn and crash-out Brexit have put paid to any hopes of one of Leo’s fabled tax cuts ever being enacted.
We learn that it won’t be a giveaway budget, or even a give-a- little-away budget. Word is, Leo thinks he may have spoken too soon back in March... and last November... and in January, 2016.
So, no tax cuts. As you were, workers.
Or maybe not. Since there are a slew of extra charges coming down our tracks. Their plan is not just to keep on bleeding us dry, but to bleed us even drier!
Just this week, the Taoiseach told the United Nations Climate Action Summit that Ireland will increase carbon tax from €20 per tonne of C02 to as much as €30. That will mean higher bills for anyone who requires diesel, petrol, kerosene, natural gas, coal and peat. Mainly rural folk, then.
Again this week, we learned the property tax in Cork county will rise by 5%, while at the same time Dublin City Council, voted to SLASH its rate by 15%. That’s nice for the millionaire property-owners in our capital, isn’t it?
All this bad news in a week when we learned that Ireland has the second-highest overall excise tax on alcohol in the EU: the highest on wine, the second highest on beer, and third highest on spirits ... and a non-giveaway budget will hardly change those stats.
Of course, the sensible thing to do here would be to postpone the budget for just a few weeks and wait and see what happens with Brexit on October 31.
But Fine Gael is charging ahead with a recession-style budget before the recession has even arrived.
The Government appear to be so concerned that we cottoned on to the last recession very late in the day, that they want to be really punctual this time round.
In doing so, Leo is playing a risky game. His strategy is based on the assumption from the 2016 general election that the middle ground were happy to forego tax cuts in return for a better public service.
Yet all we have learned since is that the more billions we pump into health and housing, the fewer returns we get, while the Government over-spend massively on projects like the National Children’s Hospital and the rural broadband plan.
I believe the squeezed middle are now feeling conned; in the words of Edmund Burke, it’s easy to make magnificent promises when they are just empty words.
The iniquity of income tax is a particular sore point, as no less an august institution than the Dublin-based Edmund Burke Institute — see what I did there? — warned this week.
The economic think tank made the startling point that Ireland’s current top marginal income tax rate exceeds the top rate advocated by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK.
Think about that: The most left-wing Labour Party in decades is actually too right-wing for Fine Gael!
It’s true though. Corbyn wants to tax those on £80,000 (€90,500) or more at 45p in the pound, and those on £125,000 at 50p in the pound.
In Ireland, the higher rate of income tax, 40%, kicks in at a salary of €35,300 for a single person. The average worker in full-time employment in Ireland earns about €39,000.
All this at a time when the Government is applying a Corporation Tax rate of just 12.5% for some of the wealthiest companies on the planet — and refusing to take €13billion allegedly owed to us by Apple.
They say there’s nothing so sure in life as death and taxes. To that we can now add: A broken Leo Varadkar tax cut promise.