On the Campaign Trail
Fine Gael: In dissolving the 32nd Dáil and launching general election 2020, the Taoiseach used his opening address of the campaign to emphasise the government’s economic record citing record employment levels and stable public finances. In seeking to persuade voters to give Fine Gael a third term in office, Varadkar also highlighted the party’s handling of Brexit discussions noting “We have a deal on Brexit that ensures no hard border, citizens’ rights will protected and the Common Travel Area will remain in place. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive have reconvened. However, Brexit is not done yet. It’s only half-time.” With the immediate risk of a No Deal outcome being avoided and off the mind of voters, Fine Gael will use the next three and a half weeks to highlight the significant stakes at play for Ireland in EU-UK trade talks. This messaging will be centre stage tonight as the Taoiseach hosts European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, for a State dinner in Dublin.
Today, the Taoiseach is also formally launching his party’s campaign in Monaghan where he is being joined by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys. The location of the launch is strategic: if FG is to emerge as the largest party it must, at a minimum, hold its vote in rural Ireland which was significantly down in 2016. The Taoiseach called on Micheál Martin to clarify reports that its sole MEP, Billy Kelleher, was set to vote against the Withdrawal Agreement when it comes before the European Parliament.
However, the story dominating the news agenda today is of serious injuries suffered to a homeless man whose tent was removed by an industry vehicle in Dublin. The Taoiseach expressed concern over the case and called on the Lord Mayor of Dublin and Fianna Fáil candidate in Dublin North-West, Paul McAuliffe, to comment on the matter which was swiftly rejected by Micheál Martin as “extraordinary”.
Fianna Fáil: Micheál Martin’s party were quick out of the blocks yesterday afternoon with multiple frontbench spokespeople including Sligo – Leitrim deputy Marc MacSharry launching scathing attacks on the government’s handling of housing, health and in overspending for major infrastructure projects. We can expect Fianna Fáil to stick closely to these three main policy areas which represent the biggest risk for the incumbent government. However, in the first televised debate of party spokespersons last night on RTÉ, the party received much criticism from fellow opposition parties on its decision to prop up the government under ‘Confidence and Supply.’ This point will prove to be a delicate balancing act for FF: they will seek to be recognized for providing national stability while at the same time attributing blame for housing and health to the government.
Martin officially launched the party’s campaign today in Dublin by appealing to voters on the issue of childcare, housing and health. The issue of childcare is emerging as a focus for the main political parties on the first full day of the campaign with Labour also making an announcement today. Martin also accused FG of having no new ideas and insisted Fianna Fáil was the part of change. With Fine Gael in power for 9 years, this will be a constant theme from FF up until polling day on February 8th.
Sinn Féin: Mary Lou McDonald has launched her party’s campaign, calling the current government “out of touch” with the electorate. The party’s focus is on ‘giving workers and families a break’. Sinn Féin has their sights set on the insurance industry, and has spoken about investing in more Gardaí and housing. Sinn Féin was criticised by Fine Gael yesterday who suggested their tax policies could cost an additional €3 billion. Sinn Féin also announced their housing policy today promising legislation to freeze rents for three years.
Labour: The party launched their election campaign today in Dublin Bay South with leader Brendan Howlin, and Kevin Humphreys at the Glass Bottle site in Ringsend. Labour plans to put €16 billion into housing over the next number of years, to construct 80,000 homes on public land. Setting out his stall, Howlin promised that such action on housing, children (including making primary education free-of-charge) and raising the minimum wage would be red lines for Labour entering into coalition. The party has also included climate action and community healthcare services as priorities in their manifesto.
Green Party: Naturally climate action is at the heart of the Green Party’s agenda, which has instigated discussions about a ‘just transition’. Yesterday the Green Party called for a ban on live exports and a review of nitrates derogation. The party has however moved away from its plan for targeted reductions in herd sizes. Other talking points for the party include strengthening local communities, and a sustainable economy. The party’s experienced leader Eamon Ryan is likely to be well placed following the election to become part of a coalition. The Greens’ base has been largely Dublin-centric and they will need to win seats in rural constituencies if they are to have serious leverage in coalition negotiations.
TV Debates Confirmed
As anticipated RTÉ will be holding a number of televised debates in what is expected to be one of the most presidential general election campaigns in recent months. A head-to-head debate between the two main leaders is scheduled for the final days of the campaign with an additional leaders’ debate in front of a live audience also envisaged. Anchor Bryan Dobson will also hold a series of interviews with party leaders to be broadcasted over the next 3 weeks.
Quote of the Day
Eugene Murphy, Fianna Fáil (FF) TD for Roscommon – Galway; “The addition of Orla Leyden to the FF ticket in Ros/Galway has quite frankly taken me by surprise as I had been told by Cllr Leyden and Senator Terry [Leyden] that she was not going to run. I have worked tirelessly over the past three years. Please continue your support.”
Murphy was responding to the surprise decision by FF HQ to add a second party candidate who is geographically close to Murphy’s base. The decision risks splitting Fianna Fáil’s vote but it’s more likely than not the party will hold its seat in this three-seat constituency.
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