Gloves off as Varadkar questions Coveney's Help-to-Buy scheme

Minister Varadkar's policy document also includes a proposal to merge PRSI and the USC into a single payment

Gloves off as Varadkar questions Coveney's Help-to-Buy scheme

Leo Varadkar talking to press in Royal Irish Academy Dublin | Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated 13:15

Leo Varadkar has proposed a review of the controversial Help-to-Buy scheme should he be named Fine Gael leader – and has pledged to scrap it if it is found to be pushing up prices.

The scheme has come under fire from opposition politicians since it was introduced by Minister Varadkar’s leadership rival Simon Coveney in October.

The Fianna Fáil spokesperson on housing, Barry Cowen dubbed it a “mansion grant” when it was first introduced and has called for it to be reviewed as house prices continue to soar.

Minister Varadkar himself defended the scheme when it was introduced, calling it "a risk that will pay off."

Launching his 'Taking Ireland Forward' policy document this morning however, he wasted no time in calling the measure – one of the his rival’s signature pieces of legislation – into question.

He said the money saved from scrapping the scheme could be used to set up a fund to incentivise older people to move out of larger homes.

Policy document

The policy document also includes a proposal to merge PRSI and the universal social charge (USC) into a single payment “with new, wider and better benefits.”

It includes a commitment to reduce rates of consistent poverty to below what they were before the recession, and support families by "extending parental leave, making childcare more affordable and making free education for children more of a reality."

Minister Varadkar is pledging full employment by 2019 and has promised to substantially increase capital spending, with a ten year National Development Plan.

He is advocating for a ban on strikes by public servants in essential public and security services - where a legally binding Labour Court determination has already been made.

The document also matches Minister Coveney's pledge to ensure nobody pays more than 50% in income tax.

Leadership race

Speaking at the launch, Minister Varadkar insisted the race is "still on" despite his commanding lead over his rival - and denies promising Cabinet positions to any of his supporters.

When declared TDs, senators and MEPs are taken into account, the Dublin West TD has more than 40% support – as compared to his rival’s 17%.

However, Minister Coveney has been quick to point out that pledges aren't votes, adding “let me be clear, we are not done yet.”

Minister Varadkar said he is "overwhelmed and humbled" by the support he has already secured thus far:

“I will accommodate as many of them as I possibly can and I think everyone understands that ultimately that is something for the future.

“Like I say, this race is still on, it is far from over and I think it is a bit presumptuous at this stage to be thinking about who will be in what position when I don’t even know what position I will be in.” 

Coveney’s plan

“I will accommodate as many of them as I possibly can and I think everyone understands that ultimately that is something for the future.

“Like I say, this race is still on, it is far from over and I think it is a bit presumptuous at this stage to be thinking about who will be in what position when I don’t even know what position I will be in.” 

“In the context of phasing out the USC over time, I think at some point in the future that could happen, but I don’t think it should be the number one priority,” said Minister Coveney.

“I think we need to look at the overall tax burden that people face.

“I think that needs to be progressive, it needs to be fair and I think it needs to focus on middle Ireland – the people that pay for everything.”

Last night in Tipperary, he told a gathering of party members that Fine Gael's best chance of making gains at the next election are outside of Dublin.

He is travelling to the midlands to meet with supporters this afternoon.