82,000 WON'T PAY TAX; Taoiseach Reveals Plans for Minimum Wage Workers in Our Exclusive Interview ON HOMELESS the Health, Welfare, Education and Training Needs of Homeless People Have to Be Addressed ON HEALTH No One Should Get Better Care Because They're Wealthier. There Has to Be Equal Treatment ON BERTIE BOWL If We Don't Build This Stadium a Lot of People Will Be Saying for Years, Why Didn't We Do It?
Byline: JOHN KIERANS, Irish Mirror Editor
TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern yesterday vowed to take 82,000 low-paid workers out of the tax net.
Signalling his intention to continue rewarding work, he announced he wanted everyone on the e232 minimum weekly wage to pay no tax at a cost of e386.3million to the exchequer.
But he also pledged to make the under-fire health service equal for all and give public patients who need life-saving operations private care.
In an interview with the Irish Mirror, Mr Ahern said: "The health service has improved. We will provide an additional 3,000 beds over the coming years, in the biggest expansion of our hospital services ever.
"We are prepared to pay private healthcare for public patients who need urgent operations if the public sector can't do them.
"Everyone must be treated equally in our health system. No one should get quicker treatment or better care just because they are wealthier.
"We'll buy the time, expertise and the resources of the private health system so we can get people dealt with as quickly as possible.
"We will reduce and permanently end the public hospital waiting lists and give all our citizens the quality care they deserve.
"We've hired 4,000 doctors, nurses and paramedics in the life of this government
"We have to keep at it, we need more beds and more staff. The real issue is investment and we've put in an enormous amount of money and that has to continue if we want better standards and facilities."
Mr Ahern revealed the November trade figures showed the Irish economy performed better than any other country in Europe.
He said: "There is every indicator things are about to bounce back up.
"Rewarding work will continue to be the core of our philosophy,we said we'd bring tax rates down to 42 and 20 per cent and we did.
"We've radically changed the tax system and brought in tax credits.
"As long I remain leader of Fianna Fail it will remain our philosophy. I believe we have been true to our commitments to lift up the standard of living for those who work hard for their families while continuing to look after those on the margins.
"We believe in making work the best way out of poverty. Gone are the days when it was preferable to stay on the dole queue than to take up a job.
"We are helping to help themselves. The massive tax cuts have made it pay to work. My priority is to keep the tax rates at the level they are at. We are committed to continuing to improve the position for those who are at the lowest levels.
"We will finish the job of taking people who are on the minimum wage out of the tax net altogether. My main aim will be to help the people at the bottom.
"We've provided more tax deductions than any other government - e3.2billion. And only 11 per cent went to people at the top."
The Taoiseach said he and his party could be trusted on the economy, which he believes will be the number one election issue.
He added: "It is unbelievable that unemployment which was at 10 per cent when I came in as Taoiseach is now down to four per cent.
"Long-term unemployment is about one per cent. We've about 330,000 extra people in jobs. That has been our real success, not just getting record levels of growth averaging eight per cent a year since we took office but turning that growth into creating real jobs.
"I find that the house where maybe the husband, wife and four adults were unemployed, there is only one with no job.
"That's been the enormous difference. In the cities where a decade ago we had long-term unemployment of 40 per cent, these are now down to single figures. …