Minister for Social Protection Leo VaradkarMinister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar spoke about the dangers of Brexit and current challenges to Government, from the Budget to the industrial relations situation at a special Fine Gael dinner recently held in Langton's.

The Government would like to be able to restore pay and tax rates to pre-crisis levels but would cost €4 billion and could not be afforded.

The Lansdowne Road agreement had to be continued, he stated and no one group should get ahead of others: that would be unfair and would trigger an all out demand for pay across the board. 

Some progress was made on some pay cuts and lowering of the USC by half a per cent in the Budget. The debt is down now and the budget deficit nearly stable "but we must not go backwards again", he added. Otherwise, we would have to prepare for more difficult days ahead and potentially another recession.

Minister Varadkar said as a Government they are doing their best to avoid strike demands for extra pay. A vision has to be shared on what is best for country, he added. Caving into strike demands will see less money for other sectors.

What about other public servants, local authority workers, pensioners, those on disability and others depending on the State, he questioned. 

Minister Varardkar also addressed Brexit, laying out a number of problems in relation to the common travel area, pension rights for the Irish working in Northern Ireland and UK and vice versa, cross border workers' PRSI and income tax.

There are 130,000 people who have worked in England and now are back in Ireland and their pensions need to be protected and other rights, he stated. They are already losing out on the lower sterling euro exchange rate. 

Some today are even flying to the UK weekly and return home at weekends so their situations also had to be considered.  

If the Irish  are treated as foreign workers after Brexit and had to leave that would be very serious, he noted. 

The effect of Brexit on the Northern Ireland peace process is another potential problem.

Ireland has had to face issues before with UK: the 1921 break for independence, leaving the  Commonwealth in 1948, the 1979 break from sterling, joining the euro in 2002 and, now, Britain leaving the EU.

Ireland has survived these measures, which has led to less reliance on the UK. There are indeed problems from the farmers in exports but opportunity to attract new investment from UK and elsewhere.

We must link up more with Europe, said Minister Varadkar: Ireland should try to be the 'Singapore of Europe'.   

As Minister for Social Protection, he is only the second Fine  Gael Government Minister to hold this position (the first was Gemma Hussey): 6000 work in the Department which has a  budget of €20 billion a year. 

He noted the €5 pension increase as well as for those with disabilities and gave a brief tirade on Fianna Fáil had claimed that Budget measure all for themselves – he wanted to help others too.

The Minister noted that the self employed are getting more welfare entitlements, having been left out before. The Fianna Fail stance on the Irish Water got a special reference given how they have "flip flopped" on the issue.