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What ever happened to Fine Gael's Five Point Plan?

Jobs, political reform and an overhaul of the healthcare system were all promised in the run up to the campaign so let’s take a look at how much of that has been delivered…

BACK IN THE 2011 general election campaign, we all heard a lot about Fine Gael’s Five Point Plan.

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There were promises of job creation, political reform and taking on the bondholders. Now, almost three years on, we have exited the bailout and Fine Gael is still the most popular party in the country, but how many of those promises did they keep?

A spokesperson for the party said that, while the programme for government sets out the coalitions priorities, rather than solely those of Fine Geal, “significant progress has been made” in implementing the Five Point Plan.

1. Jobs: Protecting and Creating Jobs

The plan, and the campaign overall, put a great emphasis on jobs, promising to create, on average, 20,000 each year.

While there are no concrete figures for the total number of jobs created across industries, the number of people in employment increased by 58,000 in 2013 and the Fine Gael spokesperson was also eager to reference these “58,000 new jobs”. Just recently IDA Ireland announced its client companies created 13,367 jobs, having created 12,722 the previous year.

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(Image: James Horan/Photocall Ireland)

However, despite the numerous jobs announcements over the last few years, unemployment has remained high, with most recent statistics putting it at 12.4 per cent, and it has been argued that much of the recent decline can be attributed to emigration.

Welfare

Changes to the welfare system to encourage job creation also formed part of the plan and while the government has hailed some of its initiatives, like Jobridge, as a success, it has been the subject of a number of controversies.

Business

As the Fine Gael spokesperson pointed out, the plan promised to make Ireland one of the best countries in the would in which to do business and last month Forbes said we were actually the best.

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(Image: Brian Lawless/PA)

As part of this, the plan also pledged to cut employers PRSI tax, which it did in May 2011 (but recently reversed), and to abolish the air departure tax, a measure which was announced in Budget 2014. NewEra has been established to manage commercial investment in the areas of energy, broadband and water, and to manage State assets effectively to maximise their potential.

The economy has grown for three consecutive years following four years of decline, though exports have played a huge part in this while GNP growth still suffers.

2. Budget: Fixing the deficit – jobs protected by no income tax increases and cutting waste

On this point, the Fine Gael spokesperson told us the party has made “major progress”.

We have renegotiated Ireland’s bailout loans, saving Irish taxpayers €9 billion. We’ve closed down Anglo and Irish Nationwide, and the renegotiated deal on the Promissory Notes will cut our borrowing costs by €20 billion over the next ten years and, of course, we have successfully exited the bailout.

Through burden-sharing with junior bondholders and securing private capital investment, the cost of recapitalising the banks has been halved.

We’re on track to meet our deficit reduction targets, income tax has been maintained and we have safeguarded our corporation tax rate. We continue to push our European colleagues for retroactive recapitalisation of Irish banks.

Despite this progress, our deficit remains at over €7 billion.

In the Five Point Plan, Fine Gael also said it would “take on the big vested interests that have contributed to the current crisis – the bankers, the bondholders, the developers and the unions”. We’ll leave it to you guys to decide whether or not they were successful on that point.

3. Public Sector: Smaller, better government – services you need are prioritised over back-room waste

The Five Point Plan said our public sector was “too large, too inefficient and too expensive”.

With eventual success in negotiations with public sector unions on the two public pay agreements, it could be argued that Fine Gael has kept its promise to cut waste in the public services.

The party’s spokesperson said:

Public service numbers are nearly 30,000 or 9 per cent below the peak of 320,000 in 2008. By 2015, public service numbers will be at 282,500; an overall reduction of 37,000. These reductions have cut the public sector pay bill by €3 billion.

However there were many criticisms of the government’s handling of the negotiations and many said the cuts did not go far enough.

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(Image: Julien Behal/PA)

It also promised to “improve the quality of public services by prioritising frontline services – that’s teachers, health professionals, gardaí, local authority services”.

Over the past three years, most of the workers who fall into these groups have taken some kind of industrial action because of cuts. While the bulk of their opposition was in relation to pay, many of the frontline workers also voiced concerns that certain moves, like closing garda stations for example, would significantly impact on the services they provide.

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(Image: Fine Gael/Flickr)

One area in which the Fine Gael seems to be moving slowly is in its commitment to merge or abolish 145 quangos. Despite an announcement at the start of 2012 that this would be done with 48 quangos, the process has been completed with just 43 to date with 63 still in the process of rationalisation.

4. Politics: Politicians taking the lead

The number of TDs will be cut at the next election and the number of councillors will also be reduced by a third, in keeping with the plan’s promise to reduce the number of politicians by 35 per cent. On top of this the government is abolishing 80 town councils, three county councils and seven regional assemblies.

Shared services for the public service have been established, and the local government reform plan, Putting People First, will deliver €450 million in savings, according to Fine Gael. The local government model is set to “change significantly” this year, according to Minister Phil Hogan, with property tax funds finally being used to fund local services and Irish Water taking over the delivery of water services.

Reform

The Fine Gael spokesperson said:

On the issue of ‘New Politics’, we have cut politicians’ pay and expenses and we’ve increased Dáil sitting days by a third. Gender quotas will bring more women into politics and the Constitutional Convention is giving citizens a direct voice.

Despite these reforms, the Taoiseach has ruled out any prospect of loosening the strict party whip system that applies to votes in the Dáil and Seanad.

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The party has also pointed out that, as promised, a referendum was held on the abolition of the Seanad. However the government’s campaign, led by Fine Gael TD and Minister Ricahard Bruton, was not a success with 51.7 per cent of people in the country voting to keep the Seanad.

While the spokesperson conceded the government has reduced the number of Oireachtas committees, they pointed out that legislation has been published to “strengthen their powers”.

“We have have delivered on other specific commitments, such as legislation to strengthen Freedom of Information, give whistle-blowers greater protection and establish a register for lobbyists,” they said.

The Freedom of Information legislation was a contentious issue in the later half of 2013, as Minister Brendan Howlin sought to add an amendment to the new bill which would have increased charges and then later backtracked.

5. Health: A completely new healthcare system

A completely new healthcare system may have been an ambitious aim to begin with and there has been no end to criticisms of the government’s management of it since taking power. The bulk of this criticism has been levelled at Minister for Health James Reilly, with numerous calls for him to resign over the last three years.

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(Image: Laura Hutton Photocall Ireland)

Most recently, the HSE has been slammed for failing to identify issues with payments to high-level staff in some of the voluntary organisations it funds.

The removal of discretionary medical cards from some vulnerable groups in society in Budget 2014 has been one of the most contentious topics and a further €619 million will be cut from spending this year.

Primary care and waiting lists

Figures in February last year showed that 72,000 people were still on primary care waiting lists despite Fine Gael’s promise to “see to it that a network of purpose built primary care centres is delivered”. The party has said this week that more people are being treated in the community through the roll out of primary care centres with approximately one primary care centre being opened a month, and 34 completed since they took office.

Special Delivery Units have been established to tackle waiting lists and so far the number of people on trolleys has been cut by a third 0verall, with some progress on reducing the time people have to wait for in-patient treatments.

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(Image: Shutterstock)

Just this week, figures showed that almost 60,000 people were still forced to wait on trolleys in Emergency Departments across the country last year – an increase on the previous year. More than 2,100 beds have also been closed in the past five years.

Free GP care

One of the positive announcements in Budget 2014, was the introduction of free GP care for children aged 5 and under, though not everyone was so supportive of it. Reilly said that this was the first step in rolling out free GP care to everyone by 2016.

As set out in the Five Point Plan, the introduction of Universal Health Insurance will take two terms in government, but the party said it will “continue to put the building blocks in place to allow this to happen”.

Smoking

A major success for Reilly has been in the campaign to reduce the number of people smoking. He was very active in encouraging the European Parliament to pass a vote on cigarette packaging, and there are now just a couple if hospitals across the country which do not have a smoke free campus.

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(Image: Niall Carson/PA)

“Work will continue”

“Just over half way through the Government’s term in office, Fine Gael has succeeded in implementing a significant majority of its Five Point Plan to get Ireland working,” the Fine Gael spokesperson told TheJournal.ie this week. “This work will continue for the remainder of this government’s term.”

If you’re interested in reading the plan in full, you can find it here.

Read: Fine Gael tops latest poll as Taoiseach sees jump in satisfaction levels>

Poll: How would you vote if a general election was held today?>

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