On the Campaign Trail
Fine Gael is focusing much of its attention in seeking to reclaim lost political ground to Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil on the issue of housing. The party has announced a number of new measures including:
– An increase of €10,000 in the rebate available to first time buyers under the Help-to-Buy Scheme up to a maximum of €30,000. The party is hoping to outflank Fianna Fáil who this week promised an increase in the Help-to-Buy grant by €5,000 as well as an SSIA type scheme for first time buyers which would see the government match €1 for every €3 saved up to a maximum of €10,000.
– Deliver 60,000 social homes over the next 5 years
Last night the Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty intervened in one of the biggest (and largely unforeseen) issues in election 2020: the age of the state pension. Currently, those who retire at 65 have to sign on for jobseekers’ payments until they reach the age of 66. There are long-standing plans dating back from the arrival of the troika in Ireland to raise this age to 67 next year and to 68 in 2028. However, the issue has been one of the main concerns raised on the doors to canvassers and candidates with many smaller parties including Labour calling for the age to be left at 66. Doherty has promised to introduce a new Transition Pension for those who retire at 66 and will be set at a rate equivalent to the Contributory State Pension.
In a further blow to FG, newly released data from this week’s Irish Times / IPSOS MRBI poll shows 75% of voters want to see a change of government. Yet, the Taoiseach remains the most popular leader albeit by a slim margin.
The party will turn its agenda to supporting rural Ireland with proposals expected to be outlined today. Anticipation is building ahead of tonight’s televised debate between Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin where pressure will be on the Taoiseach in particular to land a few punches. The contest is the first time both leaders will come face to face since the general election was called.
Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on housing, planning and local government, Darragh O’Brien, has promised that those struggling with high rents will get a €600-a-year tax credit. Current rent controls would remain in place under the party’s proposals which commit an additional €2 billion to the housing budget. The party has also promised to:
– Increase the number of social housing builds to 50,000
– introduce legislation to prevent so-called cuckoo funds from buying up entire developments through reforms to the planning system
– Cut construction costs by targeting 10,000 apprenticeship places per annum
– Roll out a national Affordable Rent Scheme
However, in what is becoming an increasing trend in recent days, the party is coming under political attacks from all sides. Last night in a RTÉ debate with the main housing spokespersons, O’Brien was criticised from all quarters regarding the party’s record on social housing as well as its decision yesterday to no longer seek a rent freeze. The party published legal advice which said such a move would be unconstitutional.
Today the party has published proposals on reforming personal taxation which include promises to:
– Reduce the USC charge from 4.5% to 3.5%
– Increase in the standard rate of income tax by €3000 for an individual and double that for a couple
– An increase in the rainy-day fund to €750 million per year bringing it to over to €5 billion by 2025
Labour has sought to reinforce its position on the state pension age, with one of its candidates Ciara Kennedy warning the government’s policy will drive up house prices. The party’s Housing Spokesperson Jan O’Sullivan has laid out its plans for renters which include:
– Rent-to-buy scheme for those seeking to get on the property ladder
– Freeze and cap rents
– Stronger rent controls and long-term leases for renters; stopping unfair evictions
– Deposit protection scheme
– NCT for rental properties
The party claims it is not making “extravagant promises” and will not be part of any government which does not sign up to its red-line issues. Speaking at the party’s launch yesterday, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said its message is: “end the waste of public money, build homes and fix health”. Its manifesto will be published next Tuesday. Some additional pledges we heard at Labour’s launch include:
– building 80, 000 homes on public land
– ensuring that hospitals and primary care centres are fully staffed, and that enough medical staff are being trained for the future
– freezing the state pension at 66 and guarantee the right to trade union representation at work
– ambitious programme of home insulation
– investing in state enterprises, delivering new sustainable jobs through the ESB, Coillte and Bord na Móna
– greater openness and transparency; the party reminded voters that Labour introduced the Freedom of Information Act
Howlin’s address at the party’s launch was almost exclusively focused on attacking the main political parties, rather than outlining the party’s policy proposals. We should expect more on policy next week at the launch of its manifesto. Labour will be vying for at least one seat at the cabinet table in the next government. Its attacks on FG and FF demonstrate that it will not be any easy task for these parties to woo Labour in future coalition talks.
Sinn Féin’s Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty outlined the party’s finance manifesto today with specific measures including to:
– Increase the state pension by €20 a week
– Scrap the universal social charge (USC) for incomes below €30k
– Abolish local property tax
– Reduce state pension age to 65
– Reform insurance levy & costs
Doherty outlined SF’s campaign against “rip-off insurance companies” and said he would introduce legislation to ban dual pricing. At the party’s launch in Dublin’s historic Mansion House on the 101st anniversary of the first sitting of the Dáil, party leader Mary Lou McDonald called for a referendum on Irish unity by 2025 and the establishment of an all-Ireland forum on unity. McDonald has asked voters to “give Sinn Féin a chance” and to judge the party on how it performs and deliver on its pledges. Along with Irish Unity, the party says a Green New Deal for Ireland will be at the heart of everything SF does. SF wants to create a national health service and move childcare to a public service. McDonald is looking to hold all of SF’s current seats and make gains, but she won’t be drawn on how many extra seats the party is targeting. So far, Sinn Féin has performed well in the polls, and in TV debates, presenting the party as the main challenger to the two main parties.
The Green Party launched its Nature and Pollution Policy Paper on Bull Island yesterday. The document outlines the party’s policy positions to tackle plastic pollution, over-fishing, sewage outflow, habitat loss and the rising sea levels. The preamble of this document states that the “sixth mass extinction event, labelled the ‘Anthropocene extinction’, is currently under way” with scientific evidence suggesting that wildlife populations have decreased by 40 million over the past 40 years. The proposal calls for turning half of the country’s territorial waters into Marine Protected areas as well as calling for a third of the country to be under tree cover within the next 10 years. Adding to this, it wants to overhaul and expand the existing environmental agencies. It also proposes to split up the National Parks and Wildlife services, given the emphasis on tourism with the National Parks. These policies will have to be seriously considered given the growing likelihood of a coalition government and the involvement of the Green Party.
The Social Democrats are calling for constitutional changes to solve the housing and homelessness crises. Within its Homes within Reach policy launch yesterday, the party is calling for a referendum on the issue so as to rebalance “common good and private property in the Constitution”. Speaking at the launch of the policy Cllr Carly Bailey, a candidate in the Dublin North-West constituency, stated that it believes that “Irish people would support these referendums as they are about the kind of society we aspire to, a fair society, where nobody is left behind”.
Quotes of the Day
– “That is Gerry’s position and I accept that position. Gerry is the expert on Gerry Adams more than you and I.”
Mary Lou McDonald is asked if she believes Gerry Adams when he says he was not a member of the IRA
– “There is nobody pulling my strings”.
McDonald denies her party’s accountability to republican leaders involved in the IRA.