BOTH Fine Gael and Fianna Fail launched their election manifestos in full today within two hours of each other.
Fine Gael opted for a team approach, with a number of Ministers speaking on different proposals. It comes after a number of the Cabinet supported Leo Varadkar in the Virgin Media debate earlier this week.
However, Micheál Martin opted to fly solo for Fianna Fáil’s announcement. This can be seen two ways: either he’s confident which, judging by opinion polls, he can be, or else he’s concerned that some TDs who have caused controversy in the Dáil recently could draw unwanted negativity to proceedings.
Fianna Fáil were up first to unveil their plans. Micheál Martin said his party’s plans were an "ambitious, deliverable and sustainable" programme of policies.
They will hold back €1.2 billion of the €11 billion pot and deploy a 4:1 investment-to-tax cuts ratio in spending the remaining €9.8 billion.
- Increase the weekly childcare subsidy from 20 to 80 euro a week - Reduce the capital gains tax rate from 33% to 25%
- Increase the state pension by five euro a week - Abolish prescription charges - Increase gardaí numbers to 16,000
- Deliver 50,000 new affordable homes and directly build 50,000 new social housing units
- Take more than 100,000 patients off waiting lists with a 100 million euro investment in the NTPF “For Fine Gael in government, action plans are only ever about providing an excuse and never about actually tackling problems,” Micheál Martin said.
“It's time to stop the endless cycle of spin, it's time for a government which spends less time playing politics and is absolutely focused on delivering concrete action to tackle urgent problems,” he added.
Fine Gael were out in force with a number of Ministers at the top table, while other frontbenchers populated the front row at the launch of their manifesto today.
- Increase the point at which a single person pays the higher rate of income tax to 50,000 euro and to 100,000 euro for a couple
- Raise the Universal Social Charge income exemption threshold from 13,000 euro to 20,500 euro - Create 200,000 jobs
- Provide free GP care to under 18s, free primary school books and more paid parental leave - Increase the state pension by 25 euro a week over the next five years
- Recruit up to 700 gardaí every year over the next five years One interesting aspect of the Fine Gael manifesto, which directly related to Cork, would see plebiscites in 2024 in areas that there are interests in directly elected mayors. They’ll take on board a request from the local authority itself, or by a petition from 20% of voters.
“I meet people every day and I know the worry, frustration, and concerns around the pace of progress in health and housing,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said at the launch.
“An improving economy and the careful management of our public finances, along with the sensitive stewardship of the upcoming Brexit trade negotiations, will enable us to drive that momentum and provide more houses, more hospital beds, more nurses and gardaí, deliver climate action, and drive tax reform.
“We've been able to make good progress, but I know it's not enough. I want us to do much more.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin launched its policy on CervicalCheck today.
The party President Mary Lou McDonald has said that Sinn Féin will bring CervicalCheck screening services back to Ireland.
“We owe it to the women affected and their families to change the system for the better, and this must involve bringing the smear testing process back home to Ireland.
“This will be a graduated process. We will allocate €16 million to this, placing a focus on recruitment and training of specialist staff and equipping labs to the highest possible standard.
“We must show that we have learned from the scandal. We show that the tragic and heartbreaking deaths of women such as Emma Mhic Mhathúna and Irene Teap were catalysts for sweeping reform of the CervicalCheck programme,” Ms McDonald said.
On the issue of crime, Fianna Fáil candidate and incumbent in Cork North Central Pádraig O’Sullivan said that people communities on the northside are being terrorised by teenage gangs who are making residents feel unsafe in their own homes.
“I have been out knocking on doors for months and the issue of crime and safety has come up time and time again. People are genuinely scared in their own communities; older people feel particularly vulnerable, with many of them telling me they are too afraid to leave their homes in the evenings”, said Deputy O’Sullivan.
“The number of brutal attacks and killings in the city over the past number of weeks has heightened those fears.” He’s promised increased Garda resources should Fianna Fáil be elected to form a Government, and “tough new laws to crack down on this sort of intimidation and gang culture.”
Deaf campaigners in Cork have said that it’s difficult for people in the community to engage with the upcoming general election.
They’ve said there are accessibility difficulties, such as multimedia material that is not subtitled, and live streams with no interpreter.
Pointing to hustings and public meetings in Cork and around the country, Graham O’Shea, Cork Deaf Club chairperson said that “no consideration will be given to Deaf constituents who, as much as anyone else, want to find out their local candidates’ views and plans.” Door to door canvassing is also an issue, they say, as often it’s not possible to engage with canvassers.
The Irish Deaf Society is calling for support from those elected to ensure that the €5m announced for work supports for the deaf and hard of hearing will be allocated, and they’ve also called for the new Government to support the legal commencement of the ISL Act in 2020.