Don't Blame FF Alone for Failings of the Finance Bill; MY VIEW

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 30, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Don't Blame FF Alone for Failings of the Finance Bill; MY VIEW


Byline: Colm Rapple Ireland's most trusted finance and money writer

The Finance Bill may have been drawn up and agreed by the Fianna Fail and Greens coalition, but it is being enacted by a wider coalition that includes Labour, Fine Gael, Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae.

The two independents voted for it, but Labour and Fine Gael could have prevented its passage by bringing the Government down. They are clearly not so opposed to the measures in the Bill that they wanted to face bringing in an alternative when they get into office in a few weeks' time.

They had that option but they rejected it. If they didn't want to be too radical, they could have accepted the global figures that underpinned the Budget and the IMF/EU deal. But within those parameters, there is plenty of scope for spreading the mix of tax hikes and spending cuts a bit more equitably. It could have been done. So why wasn't it?

Fine Gael and Labour can rightly claim they would do things differently. But after the election they will compromise on their aspirations and thrash out a joint programme for government that won't differ much from that put forward by Fianna Fail and the Greens.

Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore obviously recognise that fact and preferred to get the Finance Bill out of the way rather than be forced to bring in their own version after the election. And they didn't even try to get agreement on even minor adjustments to the Bill.

Opposition TDs are not allowed to introduce revenue-changing amendments to a money bill such as the Finance Bill, but they can, as Lowry and Healy-Rae did, threaten to bring down the Government unless it makes changes.

Not that Lowry and Healy-Rae got much for their efforts. But their limited successes show what could have been done by Fine Gael and Labour.

They have claimed credit for new tax relief on third-level charges for second and subsequent children. But there had already been a significant concession in the Budget and Finance Bill as originally published, not involving tax relief.

The Budget proposal was that the annual student services charge would be increased from [euro]1,500 to [euro]2,000 for the first child in a family, but not for subsequent children attending college at the same time. Tax relief didn't enter into it.

Following the intervention by the independents, the concession is to be given in a different way but the end result is almost the same.

First, the Department of Finance realised that because the charge was to be called a 'student contribution', it would be eligible for tax relief.

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