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Fianna Fail and Fine Gael unveil manifestos for General Election

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The two largest parties published their spending plans on day 10 of the campaign.

Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar

Ireland’s two largest parties have unveiled their manifestos ahead of the General Election.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael published their spending plans in Dublin within hours of each other on day 10 of the campaign.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar highlighted his party’s track record in the Brexit negotiations and on the economy as reasons to retain faith in his party come polling day on February 8.

He acknowledged more work was needed to tackle crises in the health and housing sectors, but insisted his government had made inroads in addressing those problems.

“I meet people every day and I know the worry, frustration and concerns around the pace of progress in health and housing,” he said.

“Today we are laying out our plans to build on what has been done, with a particular focus on home ownership and universal healthcare.

State of the parties at dissolution
(PA Graphics)

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“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 gardai, 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.”

Earlier, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin outlined what he described as an “ambitious, deliverable and sustainable” programme of policies.

He said it was time for delivery in government and an end to the “spin” he claimed characterised Fine Gael’s near-decade in power.

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The parties outlined how they would use the 11 billion euro of financial resource predicted to be available to the next government over a five-year term.

“Ireland has many strengths, but we also face many challenges,” Mr Martin said.

“The biggest of these is to make sure we have a country that serves all of its people.”

Mr Martin, whose party sustained the previous minority Fine Gael government in power though a historic confidence and supply arrangement, was scathing about what his rivals had achieved in power.

“For Fine Gael in government, action plans are only ever about providing an excuse and never about actually tacking problems,” he 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.”

The spending plans of both parties follow a 4:1 investment-to-tax cuts ratio.

Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael’s manifesto prioritised the “squeezed middle”.

It includes a significant increase to standard rate income tax band – from 35,300 euro to 50,000 euro – and a rise in the exemption for paying the controversial Universal Social Charge (USC) from 13,000 euro to 20,500 euro.

The party has also promised a five billion investment in health, with measures including the hiring of 5,000 new nurses and provision of free GP care to under 18s.

With the future of the state pension having been an issue of real focus during the campaign, Fine Gael has pledged to increase the pension by 25 euro a week over the next five years.

The party has also outlined steps to control rent increases and measures to help first-time buyers. It said it will build 60,000 new social homes.

It has also set out an ambition to recruit up to 700 gardai every year over the next five years.

Mr Martin questioned whether Fine Gael would deliver many of its pledges, as he outlined what he described as both an ambitious and prudent manifesto.

Fianna Fail will hold back 1.2 billion of the 11 billion euro pot available to the next government – to ensure Ireland has sufficient resources available to absorb any future economic shocks.

Its manifesto pledges include steps to make childcare more affordable, with both an increase in the weekly childcare subsidy from 20 to 80 euro a week and moves to reform an insurance industry which has seen creches hit with huge premiums.

The party proposes a more modest increase to the upper threshold of standard rate income tax band  – 3,000 euro for single people. It will reduce the USC rate of 4.5% down to 3.5%.

General Election Ireland 2020
Micheal Martin outlined his party’s manifesto in Dublin on Friday (Donall Farmer/PA).

It will also reduce the capital gains tax rate from 33% to 25% and increase the state pension by five euro a week.

Mr Martin said a 100 million euro investment in the National Treatment Purchase Fund would take more than 100,000 patients off waiting lists. The party has also proposed abolishing prescription charges.

Fianna Fail wants to deliver 200,000 new homes – a target that includes 50,000 affordable homes (available for 250,000 euro or less) and 50,000 new social housing units.

Two recent opinion polls put Fianna Fail ahead of Fine Gael for next month’s ballot for the Irish parliament.

Mr Varadkar has suggested he might consider working with Fianna Fail in government if next month’s election produces another inconclusive result.

However, Mr Martin has ruled out a “grand coalition” with his rivals after the election.

The four-year confidence and supply pact, between two parties founded from opposing sides of Ireland’s civil war of the 1920s, was struck following the 2016 general election.

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