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'Channel public money to make a difference and stop waste': Opposition parties set out general election stalls

Meanwhile, Fine Gael has pointed to progress in Brexit and the resolution of the Stormont deadlock in a bid to earn support from the electorate.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Jan 14th 2020, 9:20 PM

OPPOSITION PARTIES HAVE started to lay out their priorities for the general election campaign, readying themselves fora battle over the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was straight out of the gate after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that 8 February would be the day the country goes to the polls. 

Martin said Fine Gael “hasn’t delivered, and they haven’t the capacity to deliver” as he outlined the areas of focus for his party members over the next three weeks. 

“The key issue for us is we need a new government. Fine Gael has failed, particularly in terms of housing and health, the cost of living and so many other areas,” he said. 

“One only has to look, for example, at the National Children’s Hospital, the extraordinary way that ballooned out of all expectations in terms of cost, from around €500 million originally to €2 billion.

“We’ve picked up on the doorsteps, people are angry with the situation. Young people, in particular, who can’t aspire to homeownership, we have the lowest homeownership rates in a generation, the highest rents. People are finding it very difficult to buy a house, very difficult to survive.”

Martin said he spoke to Varadkar in a phone call which lasted “one second” this morning and described it as “amicable”. 

Asked why his party was using the same “Ireland for All” slogan in his campaign as he did in 2016, when Fianna Fáil failed to win enough support to form a government, he said it was a philosophy that didn’t need changing. 

“It’s not a slogan, it’s a philosophy, it’s a viewpoint. So you don’t change something like ‘Ireland for All’ when we want to bring people in from the cold, when we don’t want to marginalise people.

“The curriculum for special needs, for example, is a classic illustration of that. They’ve been marginalised by this government in terms of access to services.”

Lessons learned

At the Labour Party’s first election press conference today, leader Brendan Howlin said the party will be running 31 candidates in total. The focus for his party, he said, was on tackling wasteful government spending.

It follows controversy over the rising cost of building a new national children’s hospital in Dublin and the roll-out of a national broadband plan – which have both gone hundreds of millions of euro over budget.

He said: “We need to channel public money to where it makes a difference and to stop waste. I think people are really annoyed when they see billions of euro being wasted on a broadband plan that seems to be a blank cheque of three billion euro, when you can do it in Northern Ireland for half that price.”

“We desperately need a children’s hospital but do we need the most expensive hospital on the planet? I think people want responsible management, but they want quality public services and they know Labour has traditionally done that.”

Meanwhile Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party had listened and learned from local election losses – 78 seats lost in total – and is optimistic more seats can be gained in the Dáil.

“This time you’ll see a clear policy platform for workers, for families, for those people who hear about economic recovery but aren’t experiencing it in their lives, critically for us, for people who don’t have a secure roof over their head.

“We’re going to run a very vigorous campaign, I’m looking forward to it, I like being out on the stump, I like meeting people and it’s a welcome relief from the political show that can go on in the Dail.

“We’re setting out to defend the seats that we hold, we’re confident we can do that, we don’t underestimate the challenge, but we’re confident.

“Every election is about convincing people voter by voter and there is no room for complacency.”

Ms McDonald added that although they are open to speaking to both major political parties, “the first people who have to be consulted are the citizens of this land”.

Fine Gael’s ambitions

Leo Varadkar, having announced the date following a Cabinet briefing early this morning, also set out plans for his party to win support from the electorate over the next 25 days.

Speaking to reporters from Government Buildings today, Varadkar took credit for the progress in Brexit negotiations and the restoration of Stormont in Northern Ireland. 

“We have a deal on Brexit and Northern Ireland. Our economy has never been stronger, there are more people at work than ever before, incomes are rising, poverty is falling and the public finances are back in order. 

“As a nation we have every reason to be hopeful and positive about the future.

“I know that many families struggle with the cost of living so we have plans to ease the burden and help families who we believe should be at the centre of our society. 

Varadkar said he made the decision to hold the election on Saturday 8 February to avoid “the inconvenience to parents of a polling day on a weekday during school term”. 

The hastened polling date has, however, left some voters concerned that they will not be eligible to vote in just three weeks time. 

The issue centres around those voters who registered in the last year, and were put on a draft register which was to be added to the official register on 15 February. 

As the election date is before that, doubt has been cast over whether the government could legally have those on the draft register added to a supplementary register before polling day. 

Martin said: “There was an onus on the Government to clear all that up before they named a date and I’m surprised that they let that situation develop.

“I think thousands of people should be facilitated, who are on the draft register, of being able to vote. We may even have the anomaly of people who voted in the local election but won’t be able to vote in the general election, which is very odd indeed.”

With reporting from Christina Finn, Michelle Hennessy and PA. 

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