General Election 2020

General Election 2020 Update – 20th – 21st January

21 January 2020

 Opinion Poll Analysis 

The second opinion poll of the campaign was released last night with the Irish Times / IPSOS MRBI data pointing to a downward trend for Fine Gael with support surging for Sinn Féin. The poll, the first to be taken since the Taoiseach called the election, has support Fianna Fáil unchanged at 25%, Fine Gael down 6 points to 23%, Sinn Féin up 7 to 21%, the Greens unchanged at 8% with Labour down one to 5%. Independents and others remain unchanged at 18%. 

For Sinn Féin the party has so far been successful in painting itself as the party of change with frontbench spokespeople continuously highlighting Fianna Fáil’s role in keeping the Fine Gael-led government in power through Confidence and Supply. The party has also used the opening week of the campaign to tap into voter anger in housing policy with a number of high profile policy announcements (details below). However, SF will be conscious that the party has traditionally underperformed on election day. 

The Greens registered 15% in Dublin which, if repeated on election day, would see the party take at least six seats in the capital. For Labour the poll spells trouble with the party struggling to make inroads in what is a highly competitive contest. 

For Fine Gael, the poll will bring a great deal of concern. Satisfaction with the government is down from 42 % in October to 27%. The Taoiseach remains the most popular leader but his personal approval rating has plummeted from 51% to 35%. Fianna Fáil will be content with being the most popular party in the State but its lead over Fine Gael is within the margin of error. The stakes couldn’t be higher after the first week of campaigning. Tomorrow night’s televised debate between the two main leaders is set to be a key moment of the campaign with a significant number of undecided voters up for grabs. 

On the Campaign Trail 

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar returns to the campaign trail today in Cork where he is launching the party’s plans to protect farmers in the context of Brexit and the upcoming negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Varadkar is joined by Tánaiste Simon Coveney as well as its general election candidates in Cork including Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. Included in the party’s plan is the establishment of a new regulator to police unfair trading practices within the industry. 

The Taoiseach has been emphasising his political capital with European leaders by emphasising his desire to reach a favourable trade deal with the UK which would benefit farmers. The message of re-electing a strong team to represent in Ireland in the trade talks has so far failed to penetrate with voters. Speaking during his tour of Cork, Varadkar once again refused to enter coalition with Sinn Féin. 

Responding to the issue that has taken politicians by surprise in the opening week of the campaign, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has today said the government is considering what options are available to address growing concerns over the change in the pension age and its impact on people approaching retirement. 

Fianna Fáil are turning their focus to housing policy today with further details expected on its SSIA type scheme for younger people trying to get their foot on the property ladder (as covered in yesterday’s report). The party is set to promise a rent tax credit and a 100% increase in the vacant site levy to encourage landowners to build further property. 

The party’s health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly struggled on a televised debate last night with his opponents. Donnelly was rounded upon by all parties for not being aware of the details of the SláinteCare report, the all-party strategy on health. FF have released further details of its plans for improving health which include: 

– 5 million further home care hours 

– Recruit 4000 new nurses and 800 – 1000 consultants 

– Double the National Treatment Purchase Fund to €200million 

Spokesperson on Children & Youth Affairs, Anne Rabbitte, this morning promised that the party would increase the weekly subsidy for children in addition to introducing a new tax credit which is aimed at helping parents who want to use registered childminders. 

Sinn Féin launched its housing manifesto yesterday afternoon promising a host of measures which it hopes will lure younger voters and those who cannot afford their own home in the current rental market. The party pledges to: 

− reduce mortgage interest rates through legislation which would allow the Central Bank to cap rates 

− set a deadline for reducing homelessness 

− build 100,000 public homes on public land: 60,000 of these would be social homes and 30,000 “genuinely affordable” i.e. less than €250,000 

− give renters back €1,500 in a refundable tax credit 

− provide affordable rental homes available at/below €900 per month 

− introduce a three-year rent freeze 

− hold a referendum to enshrine the right to housing in the constitution 

− bring in a defect redress scheme for owners of defective Celtic Tiger properties 

Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has said that FG and FF have “the same set of bad policies” and went on to criticise outgoing Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. The party says its housing manifesto is fully costed and can be delivered without additional taxation on those earning less than €100,000. Sinn Féin’s challenge will be to persuade voters outside its core block that it understands the current challenges of the housing market, and has workable plans to put these policies into place. 

SF is today setting out its plans for a United Ireland and is promising a referendum on Irish unity by 2025. Bolstered by its role in getting the Northern Irish Executive back up and running, there is a new sense of conviviality from the Northern Irish parties as they battle together to defend the region’s interests as the Brexit Bill goes through Westminster. With so many other pressing issues on the minds of voters, we can’t expect this to be a core issue in the election, but it does show the party has an ambitious vision for the future. 

Labour will be disappointed with the latest opinion poll which shows Leader Brendan Howlin’s satisfaction rating stands at 17%, the lowest of the main party leaders. Howlin will launch the party’s manifesto tomorrow. Yesterday the party outlined its plans for “Women at Work”, which will provide for: 

− a gender pay gap law within the first 100 days, forcing companies with 50+ employees to reveal any pay gap, and a requirement for 30% women on their board 

− flexibility for women at work 

− more women in leadership roles 

− a public childcare scheme for working parents 

Today Howlin further outlined his party’s plans for a four-day working week which, he admits, “sounds fanciful” but has been shown to increase productivity. The party says it will stop the controversial rise in the state pension age to 67 in 2021, and that this is a red line issue for the party in entering government. 

Howlin has called for a local version of the Criminal Assets Bureau which would be tasked with targeting low-level drug dealers in communities. The issue of crime, in light of recent events, can be expected to stay at the top of the campaign agenda. Howlin also wants to introduce new laws to stop the grooming of children in the illegal drugs trade. 

The Greens, buoyed by last night’s Irish Times / IPSOR MRBI poll, has chosen the unusual location of Bull Island off the Dublin coastline to launch its policies on biodiversity and pollution. The party noted that “The island nature reserve is emblematic of the pressures on the living world. Much loved by visitors, the island and its wildlife are under pressure from plastic pollution, sewage outflow, over-fishing, habitat loss as well as sea level rise from climate breakdown.” 

The Social Democrats launched its Homes within Reach housing manifesto today. They are proposing to tackle the national housing crisis through the introduction of a nationwide rent freeze and the introduction of legislation to prevent land hoarding. The party has also proposed that the tax breaks for real estate investment trusts and so called ‘cuckoo funds’ be eliminated. The party also aims to increase the number of state constructed housing to 100,000 during the lifetime of the next Dáil. 

Quotes of the Day 

– “Leo’s Cabinet of posh boys has shown a complete lack of empathy.” 

Sinn Fein’s spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty goes on the attack as his party launches their plans for a United Ireland. 

– “It is our view Sinn Féin is not a normal party.” 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking in Cork where he insisted Fine Gael will not enter coalition with Sinn Féin.