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22 May 1997 Edition

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Workers in struggle: Taxing questions

How far can £1.5 billion go these days? Well for the Leinster House political parties there seems to be a belief that it can buy five more years in political office.
The first full week of the election campaign is over and the 2.7 million voters have been left dazed, calculators in hand, trying to work out just whose tax giveaway will leave them better off. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats, Labour and Democratic Left have all offered different ways to reorganise income tax. All the proposals offer attractive tax cuts.

Fine Gael's tack is to promise increased allowances and cuts in PRSI while the top rate of tax will be cut by 3% to 45%. Fianna Fáil want to introduce a new 20% tax rate reducing the 26% rate to this level, and like Fine Gael want a 45% top rate. The PDs want just two tax rates of 20% and 40% and, like all the others, propose a widening of the tax bands. Democratic Left and Labour are heading for the high ground by promising tax cuts that would help the lower paid more but the differences between them and the other three seem only marginal.

Whatever about the cosmetic differences between the parties' tax proposals there is one striking common feature - the assumption that voters can be bought. This is a form of electioneering that has more in common with the landlord-dominated system of rotten boroughs than the so-called modern democracy the Dublin Government aspires to run.

A second common feature is the scope of the proposals. The five parties are offering substantial change to the income tax system yet for the past decade they have in different governments been unable to display the imagination and commitment they can magically summon up in an election campaign.

For example, since the reintroduction of water charges in 1983 not one of the five governments since has been able to solve this question despite promising every election to do so. They have not been willing to address the problem they created of double taxation or any of the other glaring inequities of the tax system in Ireland.

There is no room in the proposals for dealing with the need for a properly reformed tax system where the burden would be shared equally and not fall on the PAYE sector who currently pay over 80% of all income tax in the state. Such a new system would tackle the issues of local taxation and equity in the corporate tax system and would tackle non-payment and evasion of taxes.

Currently corporate tax is levied at 10% and 36%. Most Leinster House parties seem to support a common rate of 12% which would be introduced over the next decade. This means that firms' profits will continue to be taxed at a considerably lower rate than workers' incomes and this is clearly not fair.

None of these issues have been raised yet in the election campaign. But when the politicians hit your doorsteps you should ask them not about about the £1.5 billion that they promise to give away over the next five years but the £1.9 billion already given away in unpaid taxes, the bulk of which the state's Auditor General estimates will never be collected. Tell them then that we don't need tax giveaways, we need tax equity.

Keep Sunday special

Time to let the people decide on Sunday trading

The workers don't want it, the Irish Business and Employers' Confederation don't believe it will work, and Irish consumers will be no better off but still a small number of multiple retail chains have been allowed to dictate shop opening hours in the 26 Counties.

For the past three years unregulated Sunday trading in the large retail stores has become the norm. Now MANDATE, the largest union representing retail workers in Ireland, is calling during the election campign for a referendum to enable legislation to be introduced to control Sunday trading in the 26 Counties.

MANDATE has written to all the political parties seeking a pre-election pledge that they will support the holding of a referendum on this issue within one year of the June election.

Owen Nulty, MANDATE general secretary, has explained that his union ``wants to see Sunday trading regulated by law, which is the case in 13 of the 15 EU member states''. MANDATE has no objection to small traditional neighbourhood shops such as newsagents and corner stores opening for limited hours on a Sunday. Nulty adds though that ``where Sunday trading operates, workers must be paid an appropriate premium, their participation in Sunday trading must be voluntary and their family and domestic demands must be facilitated''.

To help the Dublin Government MANDATE has engaged one of the state's leading constitutional lawyers, Gerry Whyte, to draft a possible amendment.

His draft amendment to Article 43 (2) of the 1937 constitution states: ``In particular, businesses or businesses of a particualr class or kind may be prohibited by law from trading during prescribed periods and for this purpose, legislation may differentiate between different businesses or between different kinds of business on any or all of the following grounds -the size of the outlets and the nature of the business''.

Voters too can play a part by asking politicians their position on the referendum when they canvass your home. MANDATE leaflets being distributed around the state come complete with a pledge box for your local TDs to sign.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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