By David Young, PA
A Sinn Féin-led government in the Republic could bring about a fundamental change in the country’s economic policy, the Taoiseach has said.
Leo Varadkar insisted it would be a “change for the worse” as he claimed Sinn Féin policies would mean “less business, fewer jobs and lower incomes”.
Mr Varadkar’s comments on the prospect of a Sinn Féin-led administration after the next general election came as he outlined how he intended to convince disaffected voters to back Fine Gael come polling day.
The Taoiseach claimed there was concern in the business community about the potential for Sinn Féin in government.
He said: “People in business understand what Sinn Féin is saying, which is that they will increase income taxes on a lot of people who have a lot of talent who can take their talents and jobs elsewhere; that they will increase employers’ PRSI which is attacks on jobs; that they will continue to campaign against trade agreements … and of course that says to people in business, big and small, that there could be a fundamental change in economic policy if we have a Sinn Fein-led government and that will be a change for the worse.
“It’ll mean less business, fewer jobs, lower incomes, and I don’t want that to happen.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for an immediate general election, claiming the current coalition is “out of touch, out of ideas and out of time”.
She has accused Mr Varadkar of presiding over worsening crises in housing and healthcare and of failing to do enough to help people struggling amid soaring inflation.
Speaking to reporters in Dublin, Mr Varadkar was asked how he expected young people to vote for Fine Gael given the scale of the housing problems in Ireland.
“That’s a fair question,” he replied.
“We’re not going to spend the next two years fighting the next election; we’re going to spend the next two years as a government, all three parties, focusing on doing a good job.
“I think if we do a good job, well that will increase the electoral prospects of all three parties that are in the government.
“How do I think this government will be judged? I think what’s important is that in two years’ time, things that are going well in Ireland, whether it’s the economy, job opportunities, economic opportunities, the public finances, that they should still be going well.
“And the things that aren’t going so well, or are going badly, for example the housing situation, that those things should be improving.
“And I think if it is the case that I can say to the Irish public in two years’ time that we still have a strong economy, economic opportunities in Ireland are good, incomes are rising and the housing crisis is improving, that there is falling homelessness and there are more people buying new homes, then I think we have a good case to make, but that’s two years away and the focus between now and then has to be not on the election but on doing that job.”
He added: “I think when I speak to young people, they have lots of different concerns on lots of different issues that affect them. One is, for example, climate action, and that’s an area where we’ve very good plans as a government. I think we’re much more credible on climate for example than the opposition is.
“When it comes to being part of Europe, being part of the world, I think we’re much more in the space of being in favour of the European Union than the opposition is. A lot of them are very hostile to European integration, don’t want any more of it. They don’t talk about that much any more because they know it may cost them votes, but it’s the truth and they need to be called out on that.
“And of course there is housing and, you know, I understand how much the housing crisis is hurting people, particularly young people, and that’s why I want to do all that we can to reduce the cost of rents and the tax credit is the first step in that.
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) December 17, 2022
“And it’s why I want to do all that we can to increase the number of people who can own their own home, and that’s why we have the Help to Buy scheme, that’s why we have the Home First scheme, that’s why we have affordable housing schemes, and they’re really only kind of coming online now.
“I think, you know, at the moment we’re talking 16,000 individuals, couples, a year being able to buy their first home. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get that higher and over the next two years see 20, 30, 40,000 people being able to buy their first home and I think that would make a difference.”
Mr Varadkar was also asked about claims made about Sinn Féin and links to criminality during the ongoing Gerry Hutch murder trial at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.
Ms McDonald has vehemently denied the claims.
The Taoiseach said he did not want to comment on the legal proceedings while the trial was ongoing.
“When it is concluded, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll have more to say about that matter,” he said.