Opinion Poll Analysis and First TV Debate
There was much surprise in political circles as details emerged of the first opinion poll of the campaign. The Sunday Times / Behaviour & Attitudes poll puts Fianna Fáil 12 points ahead of Fine Gael (32 vs 20 points respectively). The poll was conducted before the general election was declared and during the controversies over the government’s planned Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) commemoration and the hospital trolley crisis. Nevertheless, the poll has brought a great deal of attention on Leo Varadkar’s performance on the campaign trail amid a number of gaffes on the opening days of election 2020. If the results of Sunday’s poll were to be repeated on election day Fine Gael would suffer its worst general election in history with Fianna Fáil winning over 60 seats and putting it in prime position to lead a coalition government. Sinn Féin is down 1 point to 19% with support for the Greens up by a single point to 7%.
A further opinion poll undertaken by Amárach Research last Friday indicates that 55% of respondents favoured Micheál Martin to be the next Taoiseach compared to 45% for the current incumbent. In terms of likeability the Taoiseach has a four-point lead over the FF leader. This week we expect at least two further polls to be published as well as a head-to-head debate between Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin on Virgin Media One on Wednesday night. The televised debate will be the first time the two main leaders have come face to face since the Taoiseach dissolved the 32nd Dáil. The first full week of the campaign will also see the publication of manifestos which will bring the parties’ policies in to full focus.
On the Campaign Trail
Fine Gael: The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is on official duty today as he hosts a meeting with Apple CEO, Tim Cook. The Apple boss is to receive an award for the recognition of the company’s 40 years of investment in Ireland. The government has been criticised in some quarters for appealing the European Commission’s €13 billion fine for alleged illegal tax aid.
The party is putting up Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Education Joe McHugh and Minister for Social Protection Regine Doherty today as it announces its plans to ease the cost of living for families and improve the quality of life for children. In particular, the party has promised to:
– Extend free GP care to under 18s
– Introduce free school books at primary level
– Reduce childcare costs
– Extend parental leave by seven weeks
Fianna Fáil: The main opposition party has announced plans to bring back a Special Savings Incentive Allowance (SSIA) type scheme which is designed to help struggling first time buyers save for a deposit. Micheál Martin promised that such a scheme would see the government provide €1 for every €3 saved up to a maximum of €10,000. The move will seek to attract younger voters and middle-class families stuck in long-term renting. Staying with housing, the party has also promised an additional €2 billion on social housing.
On crime, the party has responded to increasing concerns around gangland violence by promising to bring the garda force to 16,000 (an increase of almost 2,000 personnel). The party’s justice spokesperson, Jim O’Callaghan, has also promised to strengthen legislation targeting gangland criminals by allowing garda chief superintendents’ beliefs to be used as admissible evidence in court cases.
Today the party is focusing on the age of the state pension with spokesperson on Social Protection, Willie O’Dea, promising a review if elected to government. The party is also set to announce further support for the healthcare sector including a pledge for an additional 5 million home help hours. Furthermore, the party has promised it would introduce office for budget responsibility with the Department of Health, if elected.
Labour’s Director of Elections Ivana Bacik and Councillor Rebecca Moynihan are launching the party’s “Women at Work” policy today. Labour has called for an Electoral Commission and want to reduce the voting age to 16. The party also proposes extending voting rights to long-term residents. Notably, the party is also planning to extend voting rights to Irish citizens who move abroad, for a period of time following their departure, a policy which will be likely welcomed by the significant number of Irish abroad, but which may be difficult to implement. On Friday, the party launched their “Getting Ireland moving” plan, which aims to cut traffic congestion, promote regional jobs, and create liveable communities. The party wants to support Foreign Direct Investment outside Dublin, in areas such as Meath, Fingal and Wicklow. Labour is also proposing policies around flexible working, and states that the concept of a four-day working week should be examined. Labour is set to unveil their full manifesto on Tuesday 27th.
Sinn Féin will unveil its plans to build 100,000 social and affordable homes over the next five years. Eoin Ó Broin, the party spokesperson on housing, has accused Micheál Martin of another “flip-flop” on FF’s position on a rent freeze, calling it another “empty promise” from the party. The party’s housing manifesto will be released today. RTÉ has again stated that Mary Lou McDonald will not be included in the Prime Time leaders’ debate in the last week of the campaign. McDonald has said it is “a bit of a farce” to have a debate between two parties whose policies are “virtually identical”. The party leader has also been addressing Fine Gael’s pension policy, arguing that workers should be allowed to retire and receive the state pension at 65. The party has pledged to cut insurance prices by removing the 5% premium tax. The party has committed to ending high insurance costs and has also drafted legislation which would ban discriminatory price practices by insurance companies. Sinn Féin will release its full manifesto on Wednesday 28th.
The Green Party will launch their manifesto on Saturday 25th. Their main policy areas will cover, unsurprisingly, climate and biodiversity, as well as healthcare, reduction of energy consumption, transport, housing and a ‘Just Transition’. On the final point, the party states that “citizens and residents of Ireland can no longer be conceived of as merely economic units within a market structure.” On Friday, the party announced it would extend the smoky coal ban throughout the country, and ban cars in the vicinity of schools as part of its air quality policy. If entering a coalition government, public transport investment will be a red line for the party. The Greens have furthermore called for a 7% a year reduction in carbon emissions and have been challenged by Leo Varadkar on how this target can be achieved over the next decade and its implications for the economy. Eamon Ryan will be campaigning today in Kildare, Kilkenny and Waterford.
Aontú, the party set up by former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín after he resigned from the party over the issue of abortion, is launching its campaign and manifesto “focusing on fixing a divided Ireland and calling on people to think outside of the political cartel”. The party is looking to take at least 4 seats and is fielding at least 25 candidates.
– “A week is a long time in politics and three weeks is a lifetime in politics and we’re up for the fight, but we’re coming from behind.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar comments on the weekend’s opinion poll.
– “It’s a bit of a farce to say that you can have a debate between two parties that are virtually identical in policy terms and a debate between two men who have been in government together for the last four years through the confidence and supply agreement.”
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald expresses her dissatisfaction at RTÉ’s decision to host a head-to-head leaders’ debate between Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar.
– “There is a pension time bomb.”
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty points out there are now more pensioners than workers.