Tuesday 23 January 2018

Burton promises €25 pension hike

Flannery says FG on course for overall majority in Dail

Tánaiste Joan Burton
Tánaiste Joan Burton
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Tanaiste Joan Burton has promised to increase the State pension by a massive €25 a week as part of the Labour Party's bid to shore up the grey vote ahead of the general election.

Ms Burton's pledge to increase the weekly State pension by almost €5 every year will see pensioners receive around €257 a week by the end of the next government's five-year term in office.

"It's critical that people at different stages in their life have sufficient financial resources to be able to live a decent life with a threshold and standard of decency," said Ms Burton.

The Tanaiste's attempt to lure older voters comes as Fine Gael's former chief strategist Frank Flannery predicts that Taoiseach Enda Kenny could manage to secure a single-party majority government.

Mr Flannery, who is seen as the architect of Fine Gael's current political success, believes that Mr Kenny may sweep the board and romp home to win the party's first overall majority.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Flannery insisted that voters will be faced with a choice of "Fine Gael on its own or Fine Gael and Labour" when they go to the ballot box.

"If you want a stable Government and you are, say, a middle-of-the-road, middle-class, professional-type person, whether you like them or not, the only party you can vote for is Fine Gael," he said.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael strategists are preparing to add up to five extra candidates to the party's general election ticket on the back of a series of national opinion polls which show rising support.

However, the party's backroom staff are eager to play down expectations of securing a majority, fearing that this might unnerve voters.

The latest poll showed Fine Gael on 32pc and Labour on 9pc, with just weeks to go before the election, which is likely to take place in the last week of February.

And there is an expectation that the Coalition's polling will improve further in January when people see the impact of the Budget in their pockets.

Among the measures announced in the Budget was a €3 increase in the State pension to €233.30 from January 1.

However, Labour faced a backlash from older people over what was perceived as a piecemeal increase to the pension after the Government had slashed supports for pensioners during previous austerity budgets.

Since 2009, an older person living on the State pension and the Household Benefits package has seen their income cut by more than €13 a week.

In its pre-budget submission, the charity Age Action called for the pension to be increased by €5 a week and for a €2.40 increase in the living alone allowance. Together these two measures would cost €142.5m.

Ms Burton is now seeking to reach out to older voters by pledging to increase the old age pension by around 2pc each year in order to keep the payment in line with inflation.

The move would mean an increase of around €4.60 a week from 2017, bringing the pension up to around €238.

In Fine Gael, the swell of public support has led to a growing belief that the party could improve on its 2011 general election result and form the next government without the need for Labour's backing.

And even if the Coalition is returned, it is expected that Labour will have significantly fewer seats in Government and that Ms Burton's influence over the Cabinet will be dramatically reduced.

"Labour will have to be more obedient dogs next time," a Fine Gael source said.

Last week, Ms Burton warned voters against electing a Fine Gael majority government, saying it would "lack balance". She suggested that Mr Kenny's party would only look after the "very well off".

Within Labour's senior ranks, there is a reluctance to allow the election message to focus on Fine Gael ruling a single-party government, but there is an acceptance that this will be part of the debate.

"Fine Gael are very cocky and with some reason. They are doing a huge amount of polling and the constituency results they are getting show they are doing very well," a Labour minister told the Sunday Independent.

The minister said part of Labour's pitch to voters would be: "Who do you want in Government with Fine Gael?"

"Kenny will be Taoiseach, there is no doubt about that. There is zero chance of anyone else being Taoiseach unless his own people throw him out, but there's not much chance of that," the minister added.

The minister's comments are echoed by Mr Flannery, who insists that there is no possibility of any party other than Fine Gael leading the next government.

The former strategist, who was forced from the party in the wake of the Rehab charity scandal, says: "This election will give a comfortable majority for the Government - I not only think it, I know it."

He predicts that Fine Gael will clean up at the ballot box because Fianna Fail has "effectively ruled themselves out" of government by Micheal Martin insisting that the party will not do a deal with either Mr Kenny or Gerry Adams's Sinn Fein.

"It is a matter of what type of government do you want," says Mr Flannery. "So the real alternative in many ways is Fine Gael on its own or Fine Gael and Labour."

Mr Flannery notes that the week before the last election Fine Gael was on 41pc in an opinion poll but slipped back to 36pc on the day of the vote.

"If it hadn't happened, Fine Gael would have had an overall majority last time. It could happen again this time because of an absence of an alternative for that centrist group of voters in Irish politics," he adds.

However, he predicts that Fine Gael would return with around 66 seats and Labour would secure between 12 and 15 seats.

"Fine Gael won't be talking up an overall majority. It will be talking up re-elect the Government," Mr Flannery says.

"I think a Government between Fine Gael and Labour is actually a good Government because the measure of compromise visited on both of them works rather well."

Mr Flannery predicts that the Taoiseach will step aside three years into the next term to allow an "orderly transition" for the next leader.

He believes that if Mr Kenny stays any longer he will have to run for a third term as a leader cannot step down before a general election.

He is convinced that the Taoiseach will call the election in January and that the country will go to the polls on Thursday, February 25.

Sunday Independent

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