Fianna Fáil ministers cast doubt on Harris promises on housing and tax

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath promises ‘substantial income tax package’ in Budget, but questions timeline of Taoiseach pledges

Senior Fianna Fáil Ministers have dismissed the likelihood that two key promises made by Taoiseach Simon Harris at the Fine Gael ardfheis will be achievable in the short term.

In Galway last week, Mr Harris pledged that Fine Gael in Government would build 250,000 homes in five years and also ensure that nobody earning €50,000 or less would pay the top tier of income tax.

His promise on home completions of 50,000 a year for five years seemed to fly in the face of the Coalition’s Housing for All policy, which has pledged an average of 33,000 home completions each year between 2021 and 2030.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, when asked about Mr Harris’s target, said there was not sufficient capacity to deliver that quantity of housing at present.

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“The reality of it is if you could flick a switch and deliver 50,000 homes next year, of course you would do that,” he told reporters.

“The reality is you need to build up the capacity in the construction sector to deliver those homes and people understand that too.”

Mr O’Brien said that house completions in 2024 would be in the high 30-thousands, ahead of the targets set in Housing for All.

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath said that the undertaking given by Mr Harris to remove those earning €50,000 or less from the top tax bracket would not happen on this side of the next general election.

“I think [Mr Harris] was looking beyond the lifetime of this Government and I think it was perhaps a preview of a manifesto and a party pledge in terms of income tax,” said Mr McGrath.

In his address to the ardfheis, Mr McGrath said he would introduce a “substantial income tax package” in this autumn’s budget.

Mr McGrath said “this is vital for individuals and families, but it is also important for our economy that Ireland has a competitive personal tax system”.

He told delegates that from September, “parents will see a further reduction in childcare costs and next term, parents will see the implementation of the expanded free schoolbook programme” under the leadership of Minister for Education Norma Foley.

The Cork South-Central TD said changes had recently been made to the Susi grant system for students and this would make further education more affordable for students and families in the next academic year.

Everyone recognised the impact rising costs are having on small businesses throughout the country, he said, which was why he eliminated the interest charged on warehoused tax debt.

He had allocated over a quarter of a billion euro to the Increased Cost of Business Support Grant, which businesses can now apply for.

The Government will also be “reforming Employers PRSI, which is a direct cost on businesses employing staff. We are increasing the energy efficiency grant for businesses and embedding an SME test in all policy decisions across government.”

Mr O’Brien, in his address, said “we are turning the tide on housing”. The Housing for All plan is the single largest investment in housing in the history of the State, he said. “It is a fully funded, radical but realistic plan for our future and it is getting bricks and mortar in the ground.”

More than 100,000 homes have been built since 2020 when Fianna Fáil re-entered government, he added. Five-hundred first time buyers are drawing down mortgages every week, the highest levels since 2006, and “more single people are now managing to buy their own home with the support of the First Home Scheme”.

He also said that “more social houses have been built than at any time in half a century and we will break that record again this year”.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the ardfheis he is “determined that this Government will take further actions to protect children from the damage from certain smartphone and social media use”.

“It is not okay to target children with content glorifying self harm, or suicide, or eating disorders, or violence against women. Children and their parents must be supported. Companies must be tightly regulated and must be held to account.

“We have taken firm action on vaping, making it illegal to sell vapes to anyone under 18. We’re now looking at controls on colours, flavours and banning disposable vapes.”

Minister of State Anne Rabbitte told the ardfheis the Progressing Disability Services programme was brought in under the last government without the scaffolding required to make it work.

She said the HSE has struggled to get its Children’s Disability Network Teams on a stable footing. It would be disingenuous to say otherwise.

“We’re all agreed children and families want, need and deserve access to such therapies and that’s what I’m working around the clock to achieve.”

Ms Rabbitte told delegates “one of my main areas of concern, and the one that has taken up most of my time as Minister, is the work being done to ensure children have access to therapies such as speech and language, physio and occupational therapy”.

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