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27 November 2003 Edition

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Bosses banish Budget blues with 50% pay rise - Sinn Féin calls on Finance Minister to tackle corporate greed

Aengus Ó Snodaígh, Marylou MacDonald and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Aengus Ó Snodaígh, Marylou MacDonald and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

The pay packets of Irish bosses rose by up to 50% from last year, according to the Irish Management Institute's (IMI) latest report on the salaries of Ireland's top executives. Their pay rises stand in stark contrast to the 7% pay rise ordinary workers have been bound to over a two-year period in the so-called Programme for Sustaining Progress. And despite the arrogant statement of denial from Bertie Ahern this week, in which he dismissed official Government statistics produced by both Combat Poverty and St Vincent de Paul that 300,000 children are living in poverty, the pay rises are also a graphic illustration of the widening gap between rich and poor.

The figures quoted above provided the background against which Sinn Féin launched its budget proposals for 2004 last week. Under the headline Oppose the Cuts — Demand a Fair Budget the proposals set out a programme of measures that Charlie McCreevy, the 26-County Finance Minister, should adopt to bring about greater equity in society and challenged him to force the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxation.

Among the main taxation proposals were the immediate demand for the formulation of a super tax on the highest earners and a 50% tax band for incomes in excess of €100,000, as well as a comprehensive review of the entire tax regime. This review would include a cost benefit analysis of all existing tax reliefs to wipe out tax avoidance and evasion schemes. The proposals also called for an increased Corporation Tax rate for the banking sector of 30%.

Pointing out that relative poverty and especially child poverty in Ireland had steadily increased over the last number of years, Sinn Féin recommended that the Child Dependent Allowance should be increased to a single weekly figure of €26 and that Child Benefit should be increased to €142 per month for first and second children, rising to €176 for the third and subsequeeting and towards multi-annual budgeting based on long-term planning.

"Now more than ever, after six years of a Government which has widened the gap between rich and poor in our society, we need to show that it need not have acted in this way. The resources exist in this country to ensure that everyone is cherished in childhood, decently housed, properly educated, cared for when they are ill and treated as equals," he said.

Another set of statistics were introduced to the Budget debate when, at the same press conference, Aengus Ó Snodaigh said that in the last year "almost 6,000 people died in this country as a direct result of poverty and inequality" and that "more than one-fifth of our population now lives below the poverty line".

He challenged the Government to act. "Despite economic contraction, the Government still have an opportunity to use Budget 2004 to change this situation.

"We nimpossible or even irresponsible. It is purely a matter of political will. They said we could not build a peace process, but we have proved them wrong, and we are succeeding where others have failed. They say we cannot afford to build an equal society, and in this they are also wrong, and we will prove this too," he said.

Rejecting criticism that the Sinn Féin Budget proposals were not 'properly costed' Ó Caoláin said: "This is not an alternative budget. It is rather a range of proposals to bring about greater equity in society. Sinn Féin, like most opposition parties, does not have the resources of a Government to put forward a detailed and itemised budget covering numerous Departments.

"The bottom line is that there is no question that there is tremendous wealth in this state. There is also no question that that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a minority of people.

"Sinn Féin's proposals are ab greed that exists and target the wealthy in the Budget instead of the most disadvantaged as they proposed in their €58m round of social welfare cuts in the Book of Estimates," said Crowe.

Summary of Budget proposals 2004

The Book of Estimates published on 13 November promises the second Budget of Cuts since the 2002 General Election. Already the Estimates themselves have hit the most vulnerable hard. This is epitomised by the miserly and dangerous restrictions on rent supplement which will penalise the homeless, the poorly housed and those on the economic margins.

More stealth taxes have been imposed. Health charges have gone up for the second year in a row and hardest hit are those whose income is just above the limit for medical card qualification — the very people to whom Fianna Fáil promised to extend medical card cover before the General Election.

Since the Fianna Fáil/PD Coalition was elep>

• Concentration of resources on much needed improvements in health, housing, education, social welfare and public services that enhance the quality of life of all;

• Real reform of these services to ensure equality of access, and efficient and effective delivery, to a best practice standard, in order to guarantee true value for money;

• Fundamental review and reform of the tax system to achieve greater equity and increased revenue for improved services; tax reductions for the low paid only; higher taxes for the highest earners in place of stealth taxes which take no account of ability to pay.

Some of the key recommendations in Sinn Féin Budget proposals for 2004 are:

TAXATION

Tax Reviews

• A comprehensive review of the tax regime.

• Cost benefit analysis of the battery of tax reliefs that have been set up by successive governments.

• Get banks to divert some of their profits in social and infrastructural investments such as ICT networks, small business development and social economy projects such as addressing the lack of effective childcare provision.

END THE INSURANCE RIP-OFF

• Statutory control of insurance costs.

SHARING THE WEALTH TO TACKLE POVERTY

• The Child Dependent Allowance CDA should be increased to a single weekly figure of €26 for all recipients.

• Child Benefit should be increased to €142 per month for the first and second child and to €176 for third and subsequent children.

EQUALITY AND EFFICIENCY IN OUR HEALTH SERVICES

• Establishment of a Cabinet Committee on Health to spearhead the phasing in of an Irish National Health Service.

• Reversal of health charges announced with Estimates.

• Extensipment and the County Enterprise Boards.

• Cost benefit analysis of task forces established in the wake of job losses.

• Benchmarking agreed under Sustaining Progress to be paid as agreed.

• Recoup percentage of grants (on a sliding scale) from multinationals who abuse inward investment schemes

REAL COMMITMENT TO THE ENVIRONMENT

• Adequate funding to achieve a target of 20% renewable energy by 2010 and 50% by 2020.

• Targeted tax incentives on renewable energy products.

• Total restructuring of funding of waste management based on polluter pays principle and with stricter requirement on industry to eliminate and reduce waste at source.

• Abolition of local authority refuse tax.

AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT

• A reversal of the cutbacks in the Teagasc.

• Expansion of the LEADER and CLARon Allowance.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT IS VITAL INFRASTRUCTURE

• Investment in Public Transport to continue and to be accelerated with the objective of reaching the EU average.

JUSTICE

• Greater transparency and accountability in Garda deployment decisions.

• Review how Garda resources are presently deployed and whether this meets local needs.

• Fundamental reform to make the service more locally accountable to the communities it serves.

• Stopping over-incarceration is the most effective way to save monies to the system in the short and long run. The criminal sanctions system in this State needs to be fundamentally restructured and the prison system itself needs fundamental reform.

• Reform of penal system must be based on best international practice models and plan for investment in needed facility upgrades and in services.

• Eliminating spending on EU and NATO compliance measures that can only draw Ireland deeper into an EU Common Defence.

EQUALITY PROOFING AND EQUALITY SPENDING TO BENEFIT MAJORITY

• At minimum, the 2003 cuts to the equality sector should be reversed and full funding reinstated.

• Equality proof Budget and all cuts.

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