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How different are Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil really, based on their manifestos?

There are a lot of promises to the electorate over the 260+ combined pages in both manifestos.

NO FEE VIRGIN MEDIA ELECTION DEBATE 10 (1) The two party leaders head to head on Virgin Media One. Source: Maxwell Photography

WITHIN A COUPLE of hours of each other yesterday, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil unveiled their general election manifestos.

During the campaign so far, opponents have been quick to claim that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are two sides of the same coin and that to vote one or the other into government would mean “more of the same”. 

We saw this earlier in the week, when the two party leaders Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin clashed in the first of two scheduled live TV debates.

The first question posed by Pat Kenny on Wednesday’s Virgin Media One debate was to Micheál Martin, accusing his party of being “the same old faces” that the public has seen supporting the Fine Gael government in power with the confidence and supply since 2016.

Both parties launched their manifestos yesterday with the aim of winning over voters to make them the ruling party in the 33rd Dáil. 

Contained therein are numerous promises and policies the parties say they’d follow through on in government.

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But just how similar are the two main parties? We’ve taken a look at both of their manifestos – and it’s worth bearing in mind what is below is what the parties say they would do. It’s not what they definitely will do. 

Manifestos are lengthy documents so we’ve zeroed in on a few of the most important topics – health, housing, tax, welfare and pensions and climate change.

Health

Fine Gael

FG Manifesto 161 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The party commits to 2,600 additional hospital beds, along with 3,840 new primary care workers with 1,000 in place by the end of the year.

It says it would extend free GP care to all children under 16, and reduce the drug payment scheme to a maximum of €75 a month.

Fine Gael says it will recruit 5,000 nursing staff over the next five years, as well as 1,000 new consultants over the next 10 years.

The party says it would cap the maximum daily charge for patients and visitors at hospital car parks to €10.

It would also honour its “longstanding commitment” to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol at the same time as Northern Ireland.

Fianna Fáil

To tackle overcrowding in emergency departments, Fianna Fáil says it would aim for a four-hour target wait in emergency departments. It commits to 2,600 additional hospital beds and promises to “significantly increase” home care support hours to alleviate delayed discharges.

It also pledges to double the National Treatment Purchase Fund to €200 million to help reduce waiting lists. Fianna Fáil says it would recruit 1,000 extra consultants and 4,000 extra nursing staff over five years

Within the ambulance network, it says it would provide an additional 20 emergency ambulances and 200 extra staff. 

Fair Deal would get €225 million in extra funding, and the Drug Payment scheme threshold would fall to €100, and down to to €72 for single households.

Fianna Fáil says it would remove car park charges in hospitals.

It would also issue national planning regulations to create “no fry” zones near schools and introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol alongside Northern Ireland.

Housing

Fine Gael

Fine Gael says that it will work on delivering 35,000-40,000 new homes every year for the next five years

It says it will expand the Help to Buy scheme to €30,000 for purchasers or a maximum of 10% of the cost of a home.

For the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, it says it will expand the scheme for a further five years with “sufficient finance to help more first-time buyers”. 

Over the next five years, Fine Gael says it will add “at least a further 60,000 homes to the social housing stock”.

Most homeowners would face “no increase” to property tax.

It would also introduce legislation to provide for tenancies of a long-term or indefinite duration, which would give renters “greater long-term security”. 

By the end of 2021, a further 400 Housing First tenancies will be created. The party also says it would continue to support homeless services throughout the country, such as better emergency accommodation and family hubs, and allowing families to exit homelessness.

Fianna Fáil

001 Fianna Fail manifesto Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

A key element of Fianna Fáil’s manifesto to help first-time buyers purchase a home is an SSIA scheme that would see a 33% top up. The SSIA would give people €1 for every €3 saved, under the FF proposals. 

The party says it would reduce development levies to help deliver 200,000 new homes by 2025. It also claimed that it would 50,000 “affordable homes” that would be available at below €250,000.

It would further “slash local authority red tape” and directly build 50,000 social homes over the lifetime of the next government. 

Fiana Fáil said it would not ensure homeowners don’t face “significant increases” in property taxes. 

It would “expand” the Help to Buy scheme with an extra €100 million in funding. 

It would increase the Vacant Site Levy to 14%

In terms of homelessness, Fianna Fáil says it would ensure the “required number” of the 50,000 new social housing units are made available as part of the Housing First strategy. 

It would increase homeless funding to €250 million, and increase rent supplement levels by 10%

Income Tax

Fine Gael

FG MANIFESTO 487 Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Fine Gael would raise the Standard Rate Income Tax Band from €35,300 to €50,000.

It would raise the USC exemption threshold from €13,000 to €20,500.

The party says it would raise earned income tax credit to match the PAYE tax credit.

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil says it would increase the Standard Rate Income Tax Band by €3,000 for a single person (from €35,300) and €6,000 for a couple (from €70,600).

It would also reduce the USC from 4.5% to 3.5%, increase the home carer’s tax credit to €2,000 and increase the earned income tax credit to €1,650 to equalise it with the PAYE tax credit.

The party says it would also reduce capital gains tax from 33% to 25%

Welfare and pensions

Fine Gael

Over the next five years, Fine Gael has said it would raise the State pension by €25 a week.

It says it is introducing a “State transition pension” for those retiring at 66, which would be paid at the higher State contributory pension rate.

It says it’ll also provide a “State pathway pension” for those retiring at 65, by maintaining the current payment rate but eliminating the need to sign on and be actively seeking work.

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil promise the exact same State pension increase, with an extra €5 a year over five years.

On the issue of pension age, it says it would “establish a commission” to examine the matter, and defer any further age increase pending its completion. It would also pay a “transition” pension in the interim for people aged 65 and 66.

It would introduce a €10 disability payment to top up those in receipt of social welfare payments related to disability. 

Climate Change

Fine Gael

Fine Gael says it will increase renewable electricity to 70% by 2030.

Over 10 years, it’ll raise the carbon tax (currently €26 per tonne) by €6 each year with every cent ring-fenced and invested in climate action. 

The party says it would increase the current level of retrofitting of homes tenfold, and increase the electric vehicles uptake by fifty times.

Fine Gael also says it would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.

Fianna Fáil

002 Fianna Fail manifesto Source: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

Fianna Fáil also says it is committed to reaching a 70% target for renewable electricity by 2030.

The party says it’s committed to raising carbon tax to €80 per tonne by 2030.

It will set up a new quango called the Green Homes Agency, set up to undertake the retrofitting of homes with funding of €200 million

It would establish a €5 million trees in towns fund for local authorities, and allow local authorities to launch car-free days in specified parts of their area.

It would also ban diesel cars from Irish cities from 2030, with the aim of a complete removal of fossil fuel cars by 2035.

Verdict

NO FEE VIRGIN MEDIA ELECTION DEBATE MX-8 Leo and Micheál at Wednesday's debate Source: Maxwell Photography

Both manifestos are well over 100 pages each in length, so the headline proposals above are only a small part of what each party says it can offer to the country. 

But from what’s listed, it’s clear there are many ways the parties are broadly similar – despite what members of both parties would claim. 

Both would keep the corporation tax at 12.5%. Both would increase the amount of maternity leave available to new mothers. 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil want 70% of electricity to be from renewable sources in 2030, and they’re going to increase the State pension by €5 a week every year to 2025.

They both want an extra 2,600 hospital beds but, where Fianna Fáil says it will recruit 5,000 additional nurses, Fine Gael says it will recruit 6,000.

Where Fianna Fáil says it will build an extra 50,000 social homes, Fine Gael has said it will deliver 60,000.

One major divergence comes from Fine Gael’s commitment on the income tax band.

It says it will increase the point at which a person pays the higher rate of tax to €50,000. Fianna Fáil has said it will increase that point, but it will still be under €40,000.

For Fianna Fáil, a distinct part of their housing policy would see the return of SSIAs to Ireland that would see savers granted €1 for every €3 spent. It has also pledged 50,000 homes at a cost of under €250,000.

At the same Virgin Media debate, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would be willing -  if necessary – to go into coalition with Fianna Fáil to form a stable government. 

Varadkar said it wasn’t his preference but that he was willing to work with Fianna Fáil. Micheál Martin, on the other hand, ruled out entering into a “grand coalition”, adding that “people want change”. 

Gail McElroy, a professor of political science at Trinity College Dublin, told TheJournal.ie that historically there isn’t a clear difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and their voters.

“Fianna Fáil are perhaps socially more conservative but they’re both broad churches,” she said. “Maybe Fianna Fáil are slightly to the left of Fine Gael, but only slightly. They’re both centre-right parties and their fiscal policies are really not that far apart.”

She said it “wouldn’t be hard for them to be in government together” because of these similarities.

“They’re ideologically very similar,” Professor McElroy added.

One of the things they do differ on, she said – and even then only slightly – is Europe.

“Fine Gael are probably historically more committed to Europe, Fianna Fáil less so but they are obviously also pro-Europe, just not to the same extent.”

With reporting from Michelle Hennessy

About the author:

Sean Murray

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