Joe Higgins TD explodes Fianna Fail's socialism!

Leaders’ Questions, Dáil Éireann, 17th November 2004
Joe Higgins (Socialist Party): Many of today's newspapers were kind enough to point out that I was not in the House yesterday when the Labour Party leader asked the Taoiseach about his new found commitment to socialism. Ironically, I was abroad for several days on political work to advance the cause of socialism.

Pat Rabbitte (Labour Party): Did the Deputy have the Government jet?

J. Higgins: You can imagine, a Cheann Comhairle, how perplexed I was when I returned to find my wardrobe almost empty. The Taoiseach had been busy robbing my clothes. Up to recently the Progressive Democrats did not have a stitch left due to the same Taoiseach but we never expected him to take a walk on the left side of the street.

The Taoiseach: Extreme left.

J. Higgins: He said: "I am one of the few socialists left in Irish politics". Immediately, Tomás Ó Criomhthaín came to mind, as he lamented the last of the Blasket Islanders: "Ní bheidh ár leithéidí arís ann". I then thought: "Good, Taoiseach. There are two of us in it and we will go down together." Sadly, I had to take a reality check. If this conversion was genuine we would have to go back 2,000 years to find another as rapid and as radical. Saul's embrace of Christianity on the road to Damascus stood the test of time but the Taoiseach's embrace of socialism on the banks of the Tolka hardly will. I was not impressed with the Taoiseach's answers yesterday so I will set him a test on three brief points to check if he is a socialist. On public ownership, the Taoiseach stated-----

The Taoiseach: Is the Deputy inquiring if I am a positive or a negative socialist? He is a socialist of the negative kind.

J. Higgins: We will see if the Taoiseach answers in the positive. Public ownership is crucial for socialists and the Taoiseach stated that he likes the idea that the Phoenix Park and the Botanic Gardens are publicly owned. As has been stated, however, he gave our telecommunications industry to venture capitalists to play around with. Will the Taoiseach answer the question to which he failed to reply just now? The Government is split on Aer Lingus and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, wants it to be in private hands. Will the Taoiseach-----

An Ceann Comhairle (Chair): The Chair is reluctant to intervene but the Deputy's time is concluded.

J. Higgins: The second test is that democratic socialists never support imperialist invasions and certainly those of the type launched by the US military which is wading in blood through Falluja. The Taoiseach helped the US military to get there. Will he now denounce that atrocity and condemn the murder of an innocent Iraqi as we this morning condemned those obscurantists who murder innocent hostages?

On equality, the Taoiseach stated that he is happy that the children in Rutland Street school are given breakfast there. Why should they be obliged to depend on the school for their breakfast? It is because he has presided over one of the most unequal regimes in the western world which has given huge concessions to big business while poverty remains in our State.

The Taoiseach has three minutes in which to reply. I suggest that he devote one minute to each of the three tests and I will judge his replies at the end.

The Taoiseach: I would never consider that I subscribe to the same kind of politics or ideology as Deputy Joe Higgins.

Michael D. Higgins (Labour Party): The Taoiseach has scored a "D" grade already.

The Taoiseach: My politics and ideology might be closer to those of Deputy Michael D. Higgins. I have watched and listened to Deputy Joe Higgins with interest for three decades but I have never heard him say anything positive. He displays what I believe to be a far left or "commie" resistance to everything. He does so in the hope that some day the world will discover oil wells off our coast which will fall into the ownership of the State, thereby allowing us to run a great market economy with the State at its centre. That utopia does not exist.

What I said yesterday when the Deputy was not present is that-----

J. Higgins: I read what the Taoiseach said yesterday. He should just answer the questions I have put to him now.

The Taoiseach: -----at the core of left centre political ideology is the desire to spread the wealth more evenly. That means that people must be encouraged to create the wealth. When this is done, they are taxed and the money collected is used to resource them.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputies should allow the Taoiseach to continue, without interruption.

The Taoiseach: Deputy Joe Higgins is against wealth creation and, as a result, he favours high unemployment, high expenditure and high borrowing. Any of the tests the Deputy would set me fail on the grounds that he does not believe in them. That is the issue. What we do is create the wealth, thereby allowing ourselves to employ 100,000 people in the health services to care for others, tens of thousands of teachers, many community care professionals and resource and home liaison teachers and teachers to look after the disadvantaged in our schools. That is what our brand of socialism allows us to do. The Deputy's brand of socialism has changed so much in recent years. As he is aware, one of the reasons for the rise in oil prices is because his friends in Russia have decided that the market economy can afford $50 a barrel. That is what is wrong with Deputy Joe Higgins's policies. I would be delighted to discuss the matter with him on the Blaskets or elsewhere whenever he likes.

J. Higgins: The basic advice a teacher gives to a pupil who is going in to do an examination is not to spend the entire time on one question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Unfortunately, under Leaders' Questions the Taoiseach must focus on one question and not on three.

Dermot Ahern (Fianna Fáil): The problem is that one cannot sack a teacher. J. Higgins: It was one question, divided into parts (a), (b) and (c). The Taoiseach, not being able to answer parts (a) or (b), spent all of his time trying to answer (c). On that alone, he has flunked the test. He has also flunked his history test by putting my type of socialism in the same gallery as that of the Russian Stalinists. I do not have time - unless the Ceann Comhairle will provide it - to educate the Taoiseach about that matter. He referred to my friends in Russia.

The Taoiseach: They are not communists any longer, they joined the WTO.

Willie O'Dea (Fianna Fáil): Trotsky was the same.

J. Higgins: My friends were murdered by the Stalinists. Trotsky and other fine socialists were killed because they stood for democratic socialism.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy's minute is exhausted.

J. Higgins: The Taoiseach stated that he has spread the wealth around. That is a curious statement, particularly as he has given €600 million to big business in corporation tax cuts, allowed tax exiles to get away with murder while ordinary people are obliged to pay through the nose and allowed stud farm owners and the rest to operate tax free while ordinary people are obliged to pay out massively through stealth taxation and in other ways. The Taoiseach should do the honest thing and withdraw the ludicrous claims he made at the weekend. Let us return to normal. Socialism is not a flag of convenience to be used after one's party has been battered in the local and European elections in order to pretend that one is a friend of working people.

The Taoiseach: In reply to Deputy Joe Higgins, my point is that one cannot distribute resources to education, health and social welfare unless wealth is generated. Deputy Higgins's outrageous accusation against me that corporation tax has been lowered is not true. The facts are that the rate of corporation tax has soared from 4% to 9% of GNP during my period as Taoiseach. The Government through its policies has taken far more from the corporate tax sector by having lower taxes and generating far more activity in the economy. There are over 400,000 more in employment and lower unemployment figures-----

Joan Burton (Labour Party): The recent corporation tax yield is down. That is a matter of fact.

The Taoiseach: The Government has been given the resources to spend far more.

J. Burton: The Taoiseach is wrong. His ready reckoner is wrong.

The Taoiseach: That is how we can have more doctors, more nurses, more therapists, more teachers. When the then Minister for Finance Deputy McCreevy halved the rate of capital gains tax, the Government gained four times more revenue. By having lower taxes, we were able to spend more. I quoted a figure yesterday in the House in the Deputy's absence which proves that the average industrial wage is now €10,000 more than it was seven years ago. Even taking the tax rate then and the different tax rate now, a person on that salary is paying €300 less. This shows the success of what we do. I know that the Deputy is actually an admirer of that also.

D. Ahern: That is our legacy.

Other speeches by Joe and some of the Joe Higgins Colums are available here

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