General Election 2020

General Election 2020 – Update January 16th – 17th

17 January 2020

Today is the third full day of campaigning with political parties set to focus on housing, health and as the afternoon progresses, it’s crime that is becoming a dominant issue. The parties will be hoping to gain momentum as we run in to the first weekend of election 2020. Political leaders and their supporters will also be hoping to rally their troops ahead of the first of the anticipated polls. 

On the Campaign Trail 

Fine Gael will be happier having finished the second full day of campaigning by sticking to its messaging on the economy and Brexit. The party unveiled further details of its economic plans which include: 

– An increase in infrastructure investment to €11 billion between now and 2025 

– A budget surplus of €4 billion by 2021 

– Reduce the public debt level to 85% of income by 2025 and to 60% by 2030 

– An increase in carbon tax by €6 per annum 

– Promise for grants to multinationals to facilitate remote working 

The Taoiseach has been touring the midlands and also met with Gardaí in Drogheda over increasing levels of gangland violence in the area (further background below). Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy are launching the party’s new social housing plans. We can expect the government’s housing record to come under particular focus from journalists and opposition parties. It has been speculated that Eoghan Murphy has been deliberately withheld from public appearances since the beginning of the campaign due to the housing crisis. The decision to have Paschal Donohoe, who is perceived to be one of the government party’s greatest assets, jointly present the housing plan, is a clear attempt to shift the narrative on the government’s record on housing. 

Fianna Fáil: The main opposition party is keeping its powder dry by holding off releasing the detail of its economic policies until its manifesto is published next week. The move opened the party up to criticism with Minister Donohoe leading the charge and attempting to persuade voters that FF has no specific policies. FF’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath, who shares a constituency with his party leader and also the Tánaiste Simon Coveney, gave a flavour of what we can expect to hear next week: 

– Tax schemes to support small and medium enterprises 

– A breakdown of 2:1 in favor of public expenditure over tax cuts 

– Additional investment for priority areas including education, housing and homelessness 

– Expansion in the rainy-day fund to deal with future economic shocks 

The party’s spokesperson on justice, Deputy Jim O’Callaghan, is expected to unveil FF’s policy proposals in the area of crime later today. The horrific murder of a 17-year-old from Louth, in which the boy’s body was dismembered, has brought the issue of law and order to the centre of the campaign. The murder has been referred to as “narco-terrorism” by commentators, as vicious cold-blooded murders become a central element of the modus operandi of drug gangs in parts of the country, shifting violent crime up the political agenda. 

Labour has promised to implement an effective rate of corporation tax at 12.5% with a discount for companies who operate in or relocate to rural areas. The party also pressed home its promise to build 80,000 homes over the next 5 years in a bid to attract many of its middle-class voters who abandoned the party in the election of 2016. Labour is not seeking increases in personal taxation but will end tax breaks for so called ‘vulture funds.’ The party also sought to highlight the State Pension noting it would not enter government without a commitment to keep the age to 66 – it is currently legislated to increase to 67. 

Sinn Féin Councillor and ex-MMA fighter Paddy Holohan was forced to apologise to the Taoiseach after comments in which he suggested the country ought to be led by someone who “knows what it’s like to have kids”, implicitly alluding to the Taosieach’s sexuality. Holohan also drew criticism from his own party leader Mary Lou McDonald after he went further by suggesting the Taoiseach’s Indian roots separated him from Irish history. In the last few minutes the party’s leader announced his suspension from the party amid further derogatory comments on young women. 

The party sought to move away from the controversy by announcing another a number of economic policies: 

– Increase in rent relief by 8.3% and a freeze on rent for 3 years 

– Reduction in the state pension age to 65 

– Increase in taxes on commercial property investment 

– Further additional 5% tax rate for income above €140,000 

– Significant expansion in expenditure of €20 billion and the largest investment in public housing in the State’s history 

The Greens announced plans to introduce a €10 tax per seat on airlines, in a move that will be welcomed by environmentalists but challenged by industries such as the tourism sector. For a small island economy, reliant on FDI and with no land connection to its key export markets, such a unilateral policy is risky. The party is seeking a delicate balance between achieving ambitious climate action targets while also appealing to rural constituencies in which gains will be critical if the party is to emerge as the main coalition partner of either FF or FG. The party has also promised to introduce a Green New Deal – mirroring efforts at EU level by Ursula von der Leyen – which would see significant investment in public transport and energy efficiency. Furthermore, the party outlined plans for a site value tax to replace the property tax (likely to be very popular with voters in liberal, wealthy urban constituencies where the Greens are specifically targeting Fine Gael seats), as well as an 80% windfall tax for the sale of rezoned land. 

The Greens will concentrate their focus on air quality today. 

Quotes of the Day 

– “Do I want to be leader of the Labour party some time into the future? Yes. I’m sure there are others as well. It’s not something I lie awake at night thinking about.”

Labour TD Alan Kelly (and former Environment Minister 2014 – 2016) reminds party leader Brendan Howlin of his ambitions to hold the top job.