Irish Economy

Parties clash over pre-election economic plans

Is FG changing its policies every day? Does Labour want to hand power to the EU? Is FF’s plan vague with “woolly targets”?

THE THREE MAIN political parties have spent the morning attacking each others’ economic plans, as Fianna Fáil’s Brian Lenihan held an economy-themed press conference while Labour launched its own plan for economic recovery.

Lenihan spent his morning criticising Fine Gael for its new five-point plan, published yesterday, which had seen his Fine Gael counterpart Michael Noonan claim his party had been forced into seeking more tax hikes as a result of the 2011 Budget.

“This is just not true,” Lenihan said. “The Fine Gael budget 2011 submission committed to just over €10 bn in cuts and just under €5bn in taxes over four years so it [their promised ratio of spending cuts to tax increases] was always effectively 2 to 1.”

Labour also came under fire, for “looking over its left shoulder at Sinn Fein and being [worried about being] outbid in the populist stakes”. His own government had, he said, “done the heavy lifting” in rescuing control of the public finances.

Sinn Féin’s wealth tax, the Minister for Finance and Dublin West TD added, would simply “drive wealth abroad”.

His criticisms were echoed by the party’s new enterprise spokesman, Dara Calleary, who accused Fine Gael of changing a core component of its economic policy for the second day in a row.

The apparent change in its position on tax increases, he said, came after Fine Gael had adjusted its promised total for new jobs from 105,000 in the next four years to 80,000.

Fine Gael, meanwhile, said Labour’s economic policies would see the country sacrifice even more economic sovereignty to Frankfurt, New York and Brussels.

‘Soft option’

Its banking spokesman Damien English, of Meath West, said Labour had plumped for the “soft option of more borrowing” and, in doing so, removed any medium-term possibility of Ireland being able to return to borrowing on the world’s money markets.

“Under Labour’s proposals we will have to keep taking the king’s shilling,” English said.

His party colleague, communications spokesman Leo Varadkar, said his own party’s jobs plan was the only comprehensive proposal on offer, with the Fianna Fáil/Green government offering “vague plans with woolly targets”, while Labour wanted to “extend austerity.

“Fianna Fáil’s constant attacks on Fine Gael policies are only an attempt to cover up the lack of any credible jobs plan from the Government,” Varadkar said.

The Labour and Fine Gael proposals were welcomed by the retail sector, however, with Retail Excellence Ireland describing the combined plans as being “central to our economic recovery” and addressing “the key issues of commercial rents and wage costs”.

The Green Party also took aim at Labour, with leader John Gormley saying the party had “a €2bn hole” in its economic policy, and rubbished the party’s claim that it would seek to amend the terms of Ireland’s bailout.

“Labour say they can unilaterally renegotiate the IMF deal, that is a lie,” Gormley said. “And when they fail, they will still need to find that missing €2bn from somewhere.”

Launching her own party’s ten-point plan for economic recovery, meanwhile, Sinn Féin vice-president Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central) said her party’s plan was the only one that made job creation a priority, and that her party was the only one proposing to create a job stimulus fund.

“The people have a right to work, a right to earn a living and a right to provide for their families. In government Sinn Féin would make job creation our number one priority,” McDonald said.

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