Burton targets FG as Labour is outflanked
Published 05/12/2015 | 02:30
Tánaiste Joan Burton is preparing to go to war with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the General Election campaign amid concerns the Labour Party is being outflanked by Fine Gael on key issues.
Ms Burton will today outline her belief that the "battle of ideas" in the coming months will be between the Government parties.
In a speech that will effectively rule out a Coalition with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, she will say that Fine Gael and Labour share a vision for the country but have different ideas about how to achieve it.
"The battle of ideas will continue to be between ourselves and Fine Gael - on economic issues and on social issues," Ms Burton will say.
The move comes amid unease within Labour that their Coalition partners stole a march in recent days by revealing their manifesto intentions on abortion and supporting low-paid workers.
After Mr Kenny decided to offer his TDs and Senators a free vote on any future changes to the Eighth Amendment, Ms Burton said that Fine Gael had "slowly come round to our agenda".
Now she is to go further by attempting to dismiss Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin as her election rivals, saying they "have offered little in the way of substantive ideas".
A Red C opinion poll this week put Fianna Fáil on 20pc and Sinn Féin on 18pc, compared with Labour's 9pc.
However, Ms Burton will indicate that she doesn't see the main electoral contest being with them as Fianna Fáil "offered no way out" of the recession and Sinn Féin "advocated a Greek-style approach".
Instead, Ms Burton will pit herself against the Taoiseach while simultaneously telling voters that the current government should be returned.
"As Labour leader, I want this Government returned, because I believe we have a shared vision - for stability, jobs and balanced government.
"But we have different ideas about how to achieve that vision. So each party fights its corner. We have a battle of ideas," she will tell a symposium on James Connolly as part of its 1916 commemoration programme.
Ms Burton makes the point that Labour and Fine Gael have "worked together effectively for five years" and won't "suddenly begin tearing shreds off each other".
But she will then talk up Labour's influence over Fine Gael in government, citing reductions in the Universal Social Charge, an increase to the minimum wage, X case legislation, the marriage equality referendum and new bankruptcy laws.
"One of the little noticed achievements of Labour in the recent Budget was to reduce Fine Gael's preferred ratio of tax reductions to spending increases from 2:1 to 1:1.
"In other words, Labour balanced the ratio so that for every €1 in tax reductions, there was a corresponding €1 investment in essential services," she will say, adding that if returned to government, Labour will insist on a similar budgetary approach.
Fine Gael and Labour, who have a vote transfer pact, have already clashed over plans to abolish the USC and Ms Burton will again raise the issue today.
Fine Gael has promised to completely abolish the much-hated tax, but Ms Burton will reiterate: "Our focus will continue to be on low and middle-income workers, and that is a critical distinction. So we will gradually phase out USC on income up to €70,000."
Meanwhile, Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Joe Higgins has called on Sinn Féin to rule Labour out of any potential coalition after a number of TDs in Gerry Adams' party said they could work with Ms Burton.
"Far from answering questions about Sinn Féin's left wing credentials, this will simply beg more as to the seriousness of the party about any radical reversal of the disastrous austerity imposed over the last seven years," he said.