SINN Féin and the Labour Party have outlined their election pledges in the aftermath of last night’s leaders' debate, which featured seven party leaders, but no knock-out blow seemed to be delivered.
The own-goal came this morning when comments emerged from Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone in which she called Taoiseach Leo Varadkar autistic.
She has since apologised, with Varadkar accepting, and saying she wouldn’t be suspended from the party.
That’s despite a member in Mayo being suspended, and later reinstated, for contributing €100 to his father’s election campaign - his father wasn’t running for Fine Gael.
Speaking to The Echo, a Cork autism campaigner has said it’s “upsetting” that the word autistic was used in a derogatory capacity by Ms Noone about the Taoiseach.
Lenore Good, who runs the online blog ‘Out in the Sticks with Six’ said: “To use being autistic in a derogatory capacity is very upsetting and to then try and correct herself by calling it an illness adds insult to injury."
Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said his party will freeze and cap rents for three years, and invest €16 billion to build 80,000 social and affordable homes over the next five years.
They will invest €5 billion in the health service, and €1 billion every year of new money to end the recruitment embargo.
They will also raise the minimum wage to a living wage, freeze the state pension at 66, and invest an extra €200 million every year to make primary education free of charge.
Labour will target 100,000 homes every year for insulation and retrofitting. Mr Howlin said Labour in Government would build 80,000 social and affordable homes over five years on public land.
Asked whether he would be prepared to sit down and talk to Sinn Fein about working together, Mr Howlin said he would be happy to sit down with them.
“I have said that I'm hopeful for a progressive alliance and I named-checked the parties and individuals that I believe could make up that.
“I haven't name-checked Sinn Fein in that because their tax plans are not progressive right now and that is a simple fact.”
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald also launched her party's manifesto today.
The party will publish a white paper and establish a joint Oireachtas Committee on Irish unity.
They will reduce rents by up to €1,500 a year via a refundable tax credit and freeze rent for three years, and said they will also build 100,000 homes over five years. This, they added, will include council housing and affordable homes for renters and first-time buyers at a cost of €6.5 billion.
Sinn Féin has also pledged to give the Central Bank powers to cap mortgage interest rates.
Ms McDonald described it as "shocking" that many parents pay what she termed the equivalent of a second mortgage on childcare, and pledged to reduce childcare costs by capping and reducing fees.
Among its pledges, Sinn Fein said they will abolish the USC on the first €30,000 earned, saving workers up to €700 per annum. The party said it will also end third-level fees.
“Our manifesto has been costed by the relevant government departments, it is affordable,” Ms McDonald said.
Cork North Central incumbent Mick Barry has been selected as the Solidarity-People Before Profit representative for the second televised Leaders Debate on Virgin Media this week.
The debate, which takes place on Thursday night, will be moderated by Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates.
Deputy Barry said this morning: “The first Leaders Debate between Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin was as dull as dishwater because they pretty much agree on all the main issues anyway.
“Last night’s debate was more lively in large measure because Richard Boyd Barrett raised the real issues and didn’t pull his punches. I am looking forward to doing something similar this Thursday night.”
The four incumbent TDs in Cork South Central are likely to keep their seats in the upcoming general election, according to the latest odds from Paddy Power.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has the best odds of any politician in Cork to be elected at 1/100. His party colleague Michael McGrath is the second most likely at 1/50.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire also look likely to keep their seats in Cork South Central, however Green Party Cllr Lorna Bogue could mount a challenge as could Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer.
In Cork North Central Sinn Féin Cllr Thomas Gould odds on favourite to take a seat at 1/20, Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke and Fianna Fáil incumbent Pádraig O’Sullivan are both offered at 1/7, while Fianna Fáil Cllr Tony Fitzgerald is at 10/11.
Solidarity’s Mick Barry has been priced out of the top four at 6/4. Labour Party Cllr John Maher, Independent Cllr Kenneth O’Flynn, and Green Party Cllr Oliver Moran aren’t far behind.
Calls have been made for a sensible, practical approach to reform regulations around election postering.
Ciara Kennedy, Labour's general election candidate for Cork South Central, has said a change of approach is needed but doesn’t agree with the idea of a complete ban.
“Research has shown that banning election posters altogether results in poorer turnout and adds an extra advantage for incumbents, suffocating new challengers before they've had a chance to put their case to the people,” she said.
Ms Kennedy suggested that putting limits on the number of posters and their size is a more even-handed approach.