31 August 2006 Edition

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Inequality - time to challenge cosy consensus

This week's publication of the annual Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI) report on inequality and exclusion in Ireland is a glaring indictment of an Irish Government in thrall to capital and indifferent to poverty and inequality. Despite the fact that the 26 Counties is undergoing unprecedented economic growth, with projected budget surpluses of €450 million for the next three years, the state spends less on social protection than 20 of its 25 European partners - Cyprus, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia being the four countries we spend more than.

Reacting to the report, Seán Crowe TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social and Family Affairs, quoted Connolly saying that a prosperity gauged by the volume of wealth created rather than by how it was eventually distributed was a "purely capitalistic prosperity".

This attitude was further underlined this week by the Irish Government's decision to go ahead with the privatisation of Aer Lingus. Instead of retaining a national asset for the benefit of the people, the Government have decided to sell it off - despite unfavourable conditions and trade union and public opposition.

The complacency of certain opposition political parties in Leinster House to major and pressing social and economic issues has allowed the Government to blatantly govern in the interests of capital rather than the people. This is because parties such as Fine Gael and the Labour Party, under its present leadership, have a political mindset which is identical to that of the current government.

Sinn Féin remains the only political party to realistically challenge this cosy consensus. It has called again this week for a redistributive tax system and the abolition of stealth charges. Specifically Sinn Féin wants the introduction of a 17.5% rate for corporation tax, the reintroduction of a 40% rate of capital gains tax and a tax rate of 50% for those who earn over €100,000. This would allow for the reduction of the tax burden on low income and minimum wage earners.

It is high time that those who have benefited from Ireland's much vaunted prosperity start to pay their share.

An urgent review of tax breaks, of which the government is so fond, is needed in order to assess their social value. A blatant case in point is the affording of tax breaks to private investors in health while the public health service is in an unprecedented crisis.

The cosy political and media consensus which allows such blatant inequality to occur must be challenged.


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