The 80,000-strong Fórsa trade union has demanded the restoration of tax relief on trade union subscriptions, which was abolished during the economic crisis.

Fórsa's lead organiser Joe O'Connor addressed the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight this afternoon.

He argued the Government's current approach discriminates against PAYE union members because self-employed people and other relatively well-paid professionals can claim tax relief on subscriptions to their professional organisations, including business lobby groups like Ibec, ISME and the Irish Farmers’ Association.

Mr O'Connor noted that many other countries, including Germany, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Australia and Canada, permit tax relief for trade union subscriptions.

Tax relief on union subscriptions was first introduced in 2001 by then finance minister Charlie McCreevy, to bring workers entitlements into line with people paying fees to professional bodies who already received tax relief on such fees.

By 2008, the union subscription relief had risen to €350 at the standard rate of tax - the equivalent of a €70 tax credit for union members - and by 2010, it was costing the State €26 million a year.

The following year, as the economic crisis deteriorated, Mr McCreevy's successor Brian Lenihan initially announced he was abolishing tax relief not just on trade union subscriptions, but on fees to professional bodies.

However, the cut for fees to professional bodies was never implemented - though the Government did abolish the Benefit-in-Kind exemption allowing employers to pay the annual membership fee of a professional body where membership of that body by a director or employee was relevant to the business of the employer.

This proposal only applied to directors and employees but not to the self-employed.

Following campaigns by a number of professional bodies, the Government softened its position and permitted tax relief for expenses paid by the self employed - including membership of professional bodies, at the individual's marginal rate. This income was also exempt from USC and PRSI.

In addition, professional fees paid by employers on behalf of their employees to many professional bodies may continue to be paid tax-free without USC or PRSI applying to these payments.

Businesses can also receive full tax relief on subscriptions to bodies such as Ibec and ISME.

Fórsa noted that, in the run-up to Budget 2016, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions campaigned to have this discrimination addressed, and, while the budget contained a commitment to a review and public consultation on the issue, no public consultation took place.

However, a Department of Finance review of tax reliefs (without public consultation) did not support reinstating tax relief on union subs.

Fórsa argues that reinstating the relief would be a small gesture to trade union members who made enormous sacrifices during the economic crash, while recognising the important role of unions in Irish society.