Eamon Gilmore -- The man behind the mask
THE man favoured to be the next Taoiseach has promised not to cut social welfare or raise tax rates.
Instead Eamon Gilmore wants to tax the "high fliers" of the Celtic Tiger economy in order to rebuild our shattered economy.
He refuses to accept that ordinary workers will have to pay most of the debt and boldly declares that his party will "not hit middle-income Ireland".
The statement seems too good to be true, especially when coupled with a later one that: "I think we're going to have to go through a couple of very difficult years. I don't think you can pin it on individual things.
"I think there are things that we will have to do both on the tax and the expenditure side that won't be popular."
But at the same time he has promised:
- Not to raise the existing tax rates
- Not to introduce a property tax on residential homes
- Not to cut social welfare from €196
- Not to cut child benefit
He is prepared to back water charges provided they are metered and wants to change the system for second-home tax so that you're not paying the same price for a "chalet as a big mansion".
Mr Gilmore likes the idea of a carbon tax and wants a third personal tax rate starting at an income of around €100,000.
Other monies, he says, can be raised through eradicating inefficiencies, changing around the capital spending programme and cutting the public sector pay bill.
Despite the heavy pledges, the Galway native, who supports the Dubs when they are doing well, denies being populist rather than realistic in his policies.
"I don't think that's true.
"Whoever happens to be in front, whoever is leading in terms of popular support, inevitably competitors will say it's because of this, or because of that. That comes with the territory."
He says that Labour never got the credit it deserved for backing the plan to reduce the country's deficit from 32pc to 3pc by 2014.
Speaking from a bizarrely tidy Leinster House office, he argues that Labour called it right when they opposed the blanket bank guarantee and when they looked to have the banks taken into temporary public ownership.
"At the time that we made the call on the banking guarantee, that was not regarded as a popular call.
"We don't take positions on the basis of whether they are popular or not.
"We take them on the basis of whether they are the right thing to do," he says.
Asked why he has avoided the leadership backstabbing that is simmering in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, Mr Gilmore is almost apologetic.
His party is different from those of Enda Kenny and Brian Cowen because of the "very strong sense of discipline".
"I'm very fortunate to be the captain of a very strong team."
The Dun Laoghaire TD has ruled out negotiating with Fianna Fail and categorically denies that there is any secret backroom talk already taking place between his party and Fine Gael.
He will talk to the Greens after the election, though, even though he "doesn't see any way" they will be in the next coalition.
"I think the most likely outcome of an election would be a government made up of Labour and Fine Gael," he says, adding: "I believe it is possible for us to negotiate a programme for government and to work together."
But he won't be drawn on whether he'd prefer Enda Kenny or Richard Bruton as his Tanaiste in the event he gets the top job.
"No, I don't think it's my business to have a view."
Pushed on taxes, he doesn't flinch and doesn't get specific. "Last year, what we said was that we would introduce a third [rate] on individual earners in excess of €100,000. We have to look at that again in the context of the 2011 Budget, factoring what has happened on PRSI and income levies and so on," he answered.
But he admits: "There has to be hits. I know there were people earlier in the year that seemed to think that the entire €3bn could be got by cutting public expenditure. It can't, because if you do that you create a deflationary situation. You have to do a mix of measures.
"About one-third of it should come from the capital side ... And secondly you reorder the National Development Plan to bring forward projects which create the greatest number of jobs, and shove back projects which perhaps can wait, like Metro North."
Mr Gilmore says that we can afford to keep paying the current dole rates.
"All I would say to that is try living on it. €196 is not a great amount to live on. I think there are ways of getting down the social welfare budget.
"We have a social welfare system that requires people to do nothing. In fact what we should have is a social welfare system that allows people to improve themselves."
On child benefit, he takes a similar line: "It is the only State recognition that there is of mothers because it is paid directly to mothers." Does Labour see room for some cuts? "No we don't. Again if you look at any of the studies that have been done on poverty, the people in our population that are worst affected are children.
"The cutting of child benefit makes that worse."
He continues: "We were quite an extraordinary country during the boom.
"There were all sorts of tax reliefs for property and nothing for children.
"When that debate was going on about tax relief for childcare, the Government's solution was increasing child benefit so rolling back on that now would be rolling back on a commitment to people who are at work and have childcare costs.
"Again, that's not an area that we would be cutting."
The one tax he does openly support is on water. "There are five pipes going into the house and you are charged for four of them and not the fifth, the fifth being water," he says.
But the support is conditional on meters being installed in every house in the country.
On property, he believes that the second-home tax should be formed so that people with bigger houses pay bigger fees.
"We have to remember that many people have already paid a property tax on their residential home, particularly people who bought at the height of the property boom."
Moving on to the antics of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the Labour boss described his cupboard dramatics in a TV advert as "pathetic".
Mr Gilmore said that Ahern had reached a new low and was "letting the country down".
But he is not surprised by the antics of the ex-Fianna Fail leader in the controversial TV ad for a UK tabloid newspaper.
"I thought it was awful, I thought it was dreadful, I thought it was pathetic," he told the Herald, in reference to the ad in which Mr Ahern appears in a cupboard.
The advert has caused outrage inside and outside of Leinster House.
"I just think, first of all, he doesn't have to do that. I mean former Taoisigh are paid a pension, supplied with a car, supplied with a staff and so on and so forth. I just thought it was unnecessary.
"In a way, nothing ever surprises me about Bertie. I know he has an interest [in sport]. I have no problem at all with him writing a column for whoever he wants to write a column for. That's fine.
"But for a former prime minister of any country to become part of what was really a commercial ad for an individual newspaper or an individual product, I think that's letting the country down."
Mr Gilmore has also revealed that he finds himself sniggering at the radio impression of his deputy leader Joan Burton.
"I do, yeah. I'm just glad it's not me. I think they probably have difficulty getting my accent.
" For radio, it's getting a voice or capturing an accent.
"If you are unfortunate enough to have a distinctive accent or a way of speaking you're more likely to be got," he said.
Rejecting suggestions that he lacks a sense of humour, Mr Gilmore said those who know him well would think he is a humorous person.
"When I go home in the evening I do not watch [current affairs], unless it's something very exceptional that I know I'm going to be raising in the order of business the next morning, like a well advertised Prime Time programme or a documentary on TV3 or whatever ...
"I switch off. I'll watch something light on the telly. I've box sets of The Wire and Morse and DVDs of movies that I've seen dozens of times," he said.
He says his favourite movie is Casablanca.
"I work very hard, most people here do put in long hours, but I do have the ability to switch off at home," he said.
Mr Gilmore told the Herald that he is ready for an election tomorrow. He has a contingency plan, is prepared to put aside his box set of The Wire and start working on campaign that could very well have the slogan: "One Ireland."
"That we would think of ourselves as unified country in the sense of solidarity, it's partly public/private, it's partly urban/rural, some of it is native Irish/new Irish, some of it is young/old.
But you get that sense of pulling together, that's number one."