Taoiseach singing off O’Donoghue’s hymn sheet at Limerick Chamber event

Limerick Independent TD Richard O'Donoghue

THERE was a sense at the Limerick Chamber Regional Business Awards that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was signing off a County Limerick politician’s hymn sheet.

That’s according to the politician himself, Rural Ireland Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue, who claims that people were “disillusioned” by the Taoiseach’s speech.

“People were wondering if it was actually the Taoiseach speaking or an Independent Deputy, because what he was saying is not actually what his Government is carrying out. They actually thought, at the start of his speech, that he was reading my speech, with the things he was trying to introduce,” Deputy O’Donoghue said in the Dáil.

He went on to tell the Taoiseach the story of a local business in Limerick before Budget 2024.

“Before the budget was announced, the store was already under immense pressure dealing with electricity bills which had increased from €8,000 to €15,000 and insurance costs that had gone up from €15,000 to €22,000. The alcohol segregation laws added costs of €5,000, while the cost of fuel meant that the margin on goods was reduced.

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“Changes to statutory sick pay had resulted in an increase in rates of absenteeism. The business contacted me again after the budget and said that the Government had confirmed more increases. The minimum wage went up to €12.70, which will cost the business €25,000.

“A new public holiday was introduced and pension auto-enrolment will cost €8,000, while changes to employer’s PRSI will cost €4,000. Statutory sick pay is rising to five days, which will cost €6,000, while the deposit return scheme, the latte levy, and decarbonisation costs will amount to €15,000. Before the budget, the business, a local supermarket, faced increases of €19,000 and after the budget its costs increased by €58,000, which means the business is facing a total increase of €77,000,” O’Donoghue hit out.

In response, the Taoiseach said he stood over what the Government is doing when it comes to improving pay and terms and conditions for workers.

“It is something I have been working and leading on for many years now, as Minister for Social Protection, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and now as Taoiseach,” he replied.

“I am determined to see through the introduction of a living wage, auto-enrolment so that all workers – particularly those in the private sector – are entitled to an occupational pension on top of the State pension, and the introduction of sick pay. This is the right thing to do and I said so at Limerick Chamber. I said it is the right thing to do because we should make work pay. If we make work pay, more people will work,” he explained.

Deputy O’Donoghue was quick to hit back, saying: “I agree with the Taoiseach 100 per cent that people who work in Ireland deserve to get fair pay. The top earner in the HSE earns €974,000 a year whereas a newly qualified nurse earns €32,552. Again, we go back to the people who work and these nurses work tirelessly to help us. The Government is backing a person who earns €18,730.69 per week against a nurse who earns €625.80 and then it introduces a recruitment freeze in the HSE. Who is the Government actually working for?” he asked.

The Taoiseach maintained the Limerick politician was getting his facts wrong.

“I really think the Deputy is all over the place, quite frankly. A minute ago he was criticising us for increasing the minimum wage and then two minutes later he was saying he thinks it is right that there should be an increase in the minimum wage and that people should be paid more. He talks about an employee in the HSE being paid €974,000. There is no employee in the HSE paid €974,000.”