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Varadkar hits out at 'toxic' Sinn Féin and 'finger-wagging' Fianna Fáil

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised to increase the entry point to the higher rate of tax to €50,000 over the next five years should he be re-elected to office.

Delivering his keynote televised address to delegates at the Fine Gael national conference in Wexford on Saturday night, a bullish Taoiseach delivered a stinging attack on both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, eight weeks out from the local and European elections.

He ruled out the possibility of any future coalition with Sinn Féin under any circumstances.

Mr Varadkar's tax pledge aims to increase the point at which people pay the higher rate of tax to €50,000 for a single person and €100,000 for a couple.

“Because there are more people working every year, and people are earning more, we’ll take in about €1.8 billion extra in income tax. I want to give about half of that back to you, taxpayers and pensioners,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said this is a policy for the many, not the few, and will benefit more than a million people.

“If it’s not done, more and more people will fall into the high tax band every year losing most of any pay increase to the taxman. That’s not fair. And it’s something we’re going to change,” he added.

Mr Varadkar did admit to serious failing in relation to the National Children's Hospital, saying he and his party “accept responsibility for the mistakes.”

“I know there has been a lot of focus on the rising cost of the new National Children’s Hospital. First of all, I want to say to everyone at home, that we accept responsibility for the mistakes made in projecting the true cost of building this project,” he said.

We cannot claim the credit for things going well if we do not also accept responsibility when things go wrong. And this is one of those occasions. I promise you, we will learn the lessons and ensure it does not happen again.

"But more importantly, now that it’s started, we are going to finish the job,” he insisted.

He paid tribute to the independent members of government, thanking them for their “comradeship” saying “none of this would be possible without them”.

Despite relying on their support to remain in office, Mr Varadkar delivered a scathing verdict on Fianna Fail, describing it as a party “with no ideas, no policies, no alternatives.”

“I’m sorry Micheál, but hurling from the ditch isn’t a policy, conspiracy theories don’t constitute analysis, and finger-wagging isn’t a solution,” he said.

In contrast, he said, Sinn Féin is a party with plenty of ideas and policies.

“Bad ones. Higher taxes, more borrowing, more debt. But the bigger problem I have is that the values of Sinn Féin are toxic,” he said.

We see it in the culture of bullying, in the personalised aggression in the Dáil, and on those occasions when the mask slips.

"They don’t respect our Courts, they don’t respect our Gardaí, they don’t respect any of the four parliaments they are elected to, including the ones they turn up for, they don’t respect our democracy,” he said.

“At some point between now and the summer of next year, there will be a General Election. And I can tell you tonight that under no circumstances will Fine Gael enter Government with Sinn Féin,” he said.

He went further by accusing Sinn Féin councillors of being duplicitous by complaining about the lack of jobs in their area, “only to vote against jobs and housing when given the chance”.

Brexit also featured heavily in Mr Varadkar's speech and he said while Brexit will define and consume the United Kingdom for the next generation. “It doesn’t have to define us,” he said.

He set out a five-step vision for Ireland in the wake of the United Kingdom's exit from the EU.

Those steps include: a strong economy “which rewards work and backs business”, a society in which nobody feels left out, one with world-class infrastructure, one with Ireland at the heart of Europe and one which seeks to protect our environment.