On the Campaign Trail
Fine Gael: The first full day of the campaign got off to a rocky start for Leo Varadkar and his troops. The Taoiseach was forced to climb down on his call earlier in the day for the Lord Mayor of Dublin (and Fianna Fáil election candidate) Paul McAuliffe to make a statement on the serious injuries suffered by a homeless man as a result of Dublin City Council’s attempt to remove tents on the Grand Canal. While Fine Gael had set out to discuss Brexit and the economy, the party was unable to move away from the scandal.
The first official visit of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Dublin last night was a much-needed boost to Varadkar. Speaking in government buildings, von der Leyen noted that formal EU-UK trade talks would begin by early March and noted; “There’s almost no other country in the European Union that is more affected by this decision [Brexit] than Ireland…that’s why Ireland and Northern Ireland were one of our top priorities during the withdrawal negotiations.”
Fine Gael is seeking to move the dial away from housing today as the party unveils its jobs plan and also discusses Brexit. The party has promised to create 200,000 new jobs and Varadkar has brought back a previous pledge to increase the band at which people pay the higher rate of tax from €35,300 to €50,000. Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has also promised to budget for a cash surplus of €3.8 billion by 2021, if returned to office. Further details in tomorrow’s analysis.
Fianna Fáil: The party leadership and frontbench spokespersons didn’t waste any time yesterday in criticizing the Taoiseach for his comments over the Lord Mayor of Dublin with party leader Micheál Martin visibly taken aback once the news broke to him of Leo Varadkar’s comments.
Today, the party is set to announce its policies which focus on the expansion of the SME sector across the regions. It is also expected to enhance the Rainy-Day Fund and will today call for further reform of the insurance sector which was a major pre-election issue and is likely to again emerge as a key talking point between now and February 8th.
The Social Democrats, a relatively new party founded by three independent TDs in 2015 is also hoping to make gains. The party won three seats in the 2016 general election (with Stephen Donnelly subsequently leaving to join FF) and 19 seats in last year’s local elections. The SDs will be hoping to treble their representation and are in a good position to form part of the next government. The party will launch their campaign today with a focus on public services, housing, and a core priority being supporting families. Leader Róisín Shorthall, a former Labour minister, sought this morning to try and differentiate the party from her former political home noting their approach to “transparency” and use of public money.
Labour has released their full list of 30 candidates and see the key battleground policies as housing and health. The party are seeking €2.9 – €4.4 billion in extra spending for public services. Leader Brendan Howlin argued that expected economic growth over the coming years will provide the resources for this investment. We can expect any future negotiations on a coalition arrangement to be prolonged and Labour will be looking for strong policy commitments on housing from a coalition partner. The party understands the consequences of going into coalition too – in 2016 they lost 30 seats after their term in office with FG.
Labour’s Health Spokesperson Alan Kelly has today received the endorsement of Vicky Phelan, a prominent campaigner affected by the Cervical Check controversy, which will boost his chances of holding his seat in Tipperary.
Sinn Féin is trying to up its green credentials, signing the Fossil Free Election pledge to end dependency on fossil fuels, while leader Mary Lou McDonald has pledged to deliver the “largest programme of public housing building in the history of the country” if her party enters government. The party can expect to be challenged strongly on their claims and has promised more concrete plans and numbers in the coming week. McDonald was disconcerted not to be invited to the FG – FF head-to-head debate planned by RTÉ. Wielding under 14% of the vote at the last general election (compared to FF and FG who stood at around 25% each), SF’s appeal understandably fell on deaf ears. The party has been ruled out as a coalition partner for Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour respectively, pointing to their ties with republicans linked to the old IRA. FG and FF also believe the party cannot be trusted with the economy, and have criticised their Euroscepticism.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said it will take “at least a decade” for Ireland to move from being a laggard to a leader on climate action. Outlining the party’s vision at their launch yesterday, Ryan said the country’s transport, food, energy and waste systems need to change. Fine Gael’s Minister of State for Local Government John Paul Phelan had described some members of the Green Party as “nutters”, but we can expect the leadership to be pragmatic if and when entering government. For example, the party rowed back on targets for herd reductions, and Ryan today announced his regret in previously calling for wolves to be reintroduced in Ireland. Ryan said people want to see someone who can bring real change rather than protesting and “shouting into the wind”. The party wants to use money designated for large road infrastructure projects on sustainable transport options such as cycle lanes and public transport.
Quotes of the Day
– “He called for what?…That’s extraordinary. That’s not how I would do politics.”
Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin responding to hearing about the Taoiseach’s remarks for the Lord Mayor of Dublin to comment on the tragedy of a homeless man in Dublin.
– “This is not the time for the Fianna Fáil junior B team.”
Minister for Business, Heather Humphreys speaking yesterday at Fine Gael’s election launch. The phrase draws a comparison to a GAA team of older players who are determined to play but aren’t fit enough.