Monday 20 May 2019

Campaign gets off to a false start for leaders

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Tony Maxwell
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Tony Maxwell

Kevin Doyle, Niall O'Connor and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to get into what he called "economic jargon which the vast majority of people don't understand" when asked how his party will fund their election promises.

The Fine Gael leader needed Finance Minister Michael Noonan to intervene as he struggled to outline plans for a so-called rainy day fund.

Mr Kenny repeatedly tried to dodge questions about Fine Gael's financial projections by saying they would launch their much-hyped Long Term Economic Plan today.

He said the media were trying to make "economic arguments" when "what we want to do is say to the people that we can't have this kind of resource unless you have clarity and ability".

It was a bad opening day of campaigning for all the main party leaders with Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams refusing to acknowledge questions about allegations his friend Thomas 'Slab' Murphy is a mass murderer.

Asked repeatedly about his relationship with the convicted tax dodger, Mr Adams replied: "He isn't to my knowledge standing in the election, is he?"

When it was pointed out that his friend is facing a sentencing hearing at the Special Criminal Court later this month, Mr Adams said: "Thanks for that."

Tánaiste Joan Burton landed herself at the centre of a row with Health Minister Leo Varadkar after claiming to have met him to discuss recruiting more doctors in order to fulfil her party's promise to deliver free GP for all over the term of the next government.

However, her constituency and Cabinet colleague later said he could not recall any such meeting - despite a specific warning from the hierarchy in Fine Gael for candidates to avoid clashes with Labour.

At Fianna Fáil's campaign launch Micheál Martin said an apology for the economic crash made after the last election "stands" but didn't say if he would repeat the apology if criticised by people he meets on the campaign trail.

Instead he deflected the question describing how voters are unhappy about the health system and homelessness crisis and how his party's key priority is to "change how society is going and not to have people waiting on the never, never for whatever Enda Kenny defines as a stronger economy."

Senior Fine Gael sources admitted they were disappointed with Mr Kenny's first big outing of the campaign.

His day was carefully planned from the moment he arrived in the Dáil at 9.30am to announce that the election would take place.

He used Twitter to give the actual date of polling before travelling to Áras an Uachtaráin to complete the formalities with President Michael D Higgins.

At a press conference in Dublin city centre Mr Kenny said the country was facing a "stark" choice between the existing Coalition and an alternative government.

"I will protect and reinforce Ireland's position as the right place to bring investment, the right place to start a business, the right place to enjoy economic growth and to create those all-important jobs from which to bring the benefits of investments in public services and the further employment of people," he said.

But when pressed further on how Fine Gael will fulfil its spending promises and have money left over for a rainy day fund, Mr Kenny struggled before eventually turning to Mr Noonan for help.

The Finance Minister said Fine Gael's economic calculations on the fiscal space "which seem to confuse people" were produced by the Department of Finance.

"What it really means is that the amount of resources which the next government will have to spend in excess of what they hold in the 2016 budget in the period from 2017 to 2022 and it will be divided between income tax, USC, tax reductions and spending," he said.

Mr Noonan added that €2.5bn would not be allocated for spending on any specific project meaning it would be at the government's disposal in the event of an economic shock.

Mr Kenny yesterday said he would participate in a series of debates on RTÉ and TV3.

"Let me assure you that a list of requests would go from here to the door so whatever is agreed between the parties and the broadcasters we'll be very happy to participate in the debate. Why wouldn't I?" he said.


Meanwhile the Irish Independent has learned that the Coalition parties are on course for another clash today.

Ms Burton will today say that her party can guarantee "a job for everyone who wants one by 2018", even though Fine Gael has said 2020 is a more realistic date.

She will also announce Labour Party plans for 50,000 new apprenticeship places and a hike in the minimum wage to €11.30.

Fine Gael will launch its Long Term Economic Plan while Fianna Fail will set out its plan for what it sees as a "fairer economy".

Irish Independent

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