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Out with the old

Enda and Joan will 'promise to do just about anything' to improve their poll ratings

After lending the political limelight to Lucinda, the Government’s hoping to dominate the political news agenda this week…

Updated 2.35pm 

AFTER ITS ANNUS horribilis in 2014, the Government fight-back has started in earnest this morning – and the opposition are on the offensive too.

The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste both have op-eds in national papers today (in the Indo and the Times, respectively) setting out their aims for the rest of their terms in office.

But Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald took a dim view of the comments, saying of the coalition: “They’ll probably promise to do just about anything if it will see a bounce in their poll ratings.”

There was also some good news from the Department of Agriculture — with Minister Simon Coveney announcing a return to the US market for Irish beef.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, the Fine Gael minister admitted last year had been a bad one for the coalition.

Of course, it’s no secret that the Government’s not entirely happy with its own performance.

The coalition’s committed plenty of avoidable mistakes over the last 12 months — a year dominated by major controversies (Irish Water, Gardagate) and more minor ones (the long-running John McNulty Affair)

So — on what, for much of the country, is the first real ‘back to work’ day after the Christmas and New Year break — what are the two party leaders promising?

Enda and Joan have op-ed pieces in this morning's Indo and Times.

Enda Kenny

It’s all about jobs stupid — is, essentially, the Taoiseach’s main message in his Irish Independent piece.

He uses the word eight times by the end of his third paragraph.

Kenny’s pledging to refocus Government attention on employment as it enters what will be its final full year in office.  The “number one goal” is to add 40,000 additional jobs by the end of the year, he writes.

The next steps in achieving that will be signed-off on at a special meeting on Wednesday of next week. On the agenda: actions to support job creation outside of urban areas, ways to improve credit availability to small businesses, and new measures to support tourism and aviation.

He adds:

A particular focus in this year’s plan will be measures to support the self-employed through further reforms of the tax system.

Kenny also indicates a rise in the minimum wage (taking a pop at Fianna Fáil for cutting the rate along the way) — noting that he will ask that the Government acts on the first recommendation of the Low Pay Commission “without delay”.

Ministers have already hinted that the €8.65 rate could be raised on foot of a review to be carried out by the new Commission, which was announced by Minister of State Ged Nash last year.

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Elsewhere, changes to the threshold for the Universal Social Charge this month will see 80,000 workers escape from the levy, Kenny notes — stressing that 25 per cent of the workforce will have been removed from the USC by the end of the coalition’s term.

He ends, as you might expect, on an upbeat note (and thankfully, there’s no mention of any that ‘best small country’ business this time out)…

The Government’s plan will offer confidence to everyone in Ireland, and those abroad, that there is a bright future ahead of us, that people can live and work and raise their families safe in the knowledge that Ireland will be once again a land of opportunity and progress.

Joan Burton

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Over in the Times, Joan Burton is also highlighting the USC changes, noting that hundreds of thousands have now been removed from the charge, even though the Government has been grappling with “the worst economic crisis the State has ever suffered”.

Though the economy has improved, “at a thumping rate” many families are still struggling as a result of the downturn, the Labour leader concedes, stressing:

My focus will principally be on those who have had to endure stagnant incomes over a prolonged period and haven’t seen recovery in their own lives.

Labour, she writes, will take its own distinct approach to the economy — a “sensible path between the undue austerity advocated by fiscal conservatives and the economic hara-kiri of Sinn Féin and the ultra left”.

“Cautious economic growth assumptions” underpinned Budget 2015, according to Burton. However, the tax reductions and spending increases announced, she says…

“…will increase economic growth by about 0.3 per cent and employment by 0.2 per cent next year.

While these fractions may sound small, they translate into 10,000 more people at work than if the €2 billion consolidation had been implemented.

Sinn Féin response

But speaking to reporters at her constituency office in Dublin this afternoon, McDonald said that her party was not interested in “starting off the year with a slagging match”.

“If they want to do one single thing now that would be of assistance to low and middle income families they should just scrap the water charges,” she said of the coalition.

She said that the kamikaze antics were in fact Fine Gael’s and Labour’s.

“We will welcome any policy that is of assistance to working families,” she added.

Rebooting Ireland

The period immediately after the New Year holiday is typically a quiet time for political news.

Lucinda Creighton managed to dominate the weekend’s political coverage with her ‘Reboot Ireland’ announcement on Friday.

The Government parties will be hoping to dominate the agenda for the coming weeks — beginning with this morning’s op-eds from the two leaders, as they talk-up achievements they feel have been overlooked, and aim to regain the votes they’ve hemorrhaged since taking office.

They’ve certainly a tough task ahead.

A recent poll put support for Fine Gael at just 16 per cent if an election were to be held tomorrow — with Labour languishing at just five per cent.

- additional reporting from Hugh O’Connell  

Read: Fine Gael hasn’t been this unpopular in a decade

Read: Support for Fine Gael is dropping like a stone, they’re down 4% in the last month

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