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No review necessary – Abolish the Social Charge now – Ó Caoláin

29 March, 2011 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking during the Private Members’ debate in the Dáil this evening on the Universal Social Charge Sinn Féin Health and Children Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that despite the rhetoric from Fine Gael and Labour they both accept the basic Fianna Fáil/Green Party economic strategy and continue the folly of refusing to ask gamblers to pay their own debts.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said a review of the Universal Social Charge is not necessary and it should be abolished immediately.

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech follows:

Private Members Business 29.3.11
Universal Social Charge – Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson

This is the first time Sinn Féin, as a party in our own right, has had the opportunity to table a motion for Private Members Business and to have it debated in the Dáil. It is a measure of our progress at the General Election that this debate is taking place.

Sinn Féin has pledged to stand with those in Irish society who are being made to bear the brunt of this recession, people on low to middle incomes. We are fulfilling that pledge and we will continue to do so in this Dáil, in our constituencies and in communities across this State.

In every single one of those constituencies the people delivered a resounding verdict on the disastrous misrule of Fianna Fáil and the Greens and, before that, Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

One of the chief results of that gross misrule, and one that reaches into nearly every household and into the pockets of the vast majority of workers is the Universal Social Charge. People are acutely conscious of the fact – and it is a fact – that they are being made to pay for the folly of a Government that refuses to require gamblers to pay their own debts.

That folly is being continued by the new Fine Gael/Labour Government. We pointed out before, during and after the General Election that Fine Gael and Labour accept the basics of the Fianna Fail/Green Government economic strategy. Despite their rhetoric they are fundamentally no different.

But the parties now in Government were careful to give the people a very different impression. Both Fine Gael and Labour poured no end of condemnation on the Fianna Fáil/Green Government – all deserved. They slammed the IMF/ECB deal, the Budget and, especially, the Universal Social Charge.

Deputy Joan Burton, now Minister for Social Protection, said in January:

“The little people as always carry the burden and are squeezed under every possible heading. They are squeezed under the Universal Social Charge. They are squeezed by the reductions in tax credits. They are squeezed by the reduction in the minimum wage.”

Deputy Róisín Shortall, now junior Minister for Health, said the Universal Social Charge is “little more than a ‘Working-Poor Tax’” and “a blatant and unjustifiable attack on the poor”.

The electorate were clearly labouring under the impression – if you’ll pardon the pun – that the so-called parties of change – Labour and Fine Gael – had the Universal Social Charge in their sights. They were going to blow it out of the water. Or maybe not. When the smoke of the General Election cleared the Programme for Government did not propose to abolish the charge. It proposes a review.

A review is not good enough. The Universal Social Charge is an attack on the poor. It does squeeze those least able to afford it. It is regressive. So why not scrap it instead of wasting time on a review? What are the timeframe and terms of reference of this review?

The Government could have indicated the terms of reference and the timeframe for the review in their amendment to the Sinn Féin motion. Instead this minimalist amendment states, quite unbelievably, that the reinstatement of the income and health levies would bring poverty traps into the system. The Universal Social Charge is one big poverty trap.

An economist who is, I believe, close to the Labour Party, has shown that if the previous levies were reinstated then low income earners could benefit by up to €10 per week while higher income groups would lose out. This would, of course, help economic growth since low-income earners spend their additional income while high-income earners tend to save.

As we clearly state in our motion, the reintroduction of the former levies would be an interim measure, pending root and branch reform of taxation.

This debate again exposes the Consensus for Cuts. The phoney Opposition Party, Fianna Fáil, will troop in behind Fine Gael and Labour in the division tomorrow night. That may provide political ammunition for the rest of us but, be assured, we would much rather see the Universal Social Charge removed. That should happen now. If it does not happen now then it can be the only just and fair outcome of the promised review. I urge all Deputies to support this motion.

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