Wednesday 21 February 2018

Deputies don't hold back as they tackle own live showdown

The party leaders line up before the RTE debate
The party leaders line up before the RTE debate
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald traded blows over housing, health and tax on TV3's deputy leaders debate last night.

The two deputy party leaders, who are fighting for the votes of low-income earners, regularly spoke over one another during the live TV debate.

Fine Gael Children's Minister James Reilly and Mr Kelly defended their record in Coalition against Ms McDonald and Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen.

Ms McDonald attacked Mr Kelly over his handling of the housing and homelessness crisis. She said Mr Kelly and Labour had "zero credibility" among people who are looking for housing and said he "excels" at recycling announcements on social housing, accusing him of "windy rhetoric". She said just 28 social housing units were constructed last year.

Mr Kelly said the housing crisis developed due to a "perfect storm" and insisted the government had a plan to invest €4bn in social housing construction.

He maintained a lack of housing supply was the main issue and that after every recession it takes at least three years for the construction sector to catch up with the rest of the economy.

Mr Kelly said 5,000 social houses are currently being built and said last year he handed over 13,000 keys to people looking for homes from the State.

Mr Reilly defended his time as Health Minister and said he reduced trolley numbers by a third when he was in the department.

He also pushed the Fine Gael message that investment in healthcare cannot be introduced without a strong economy.

Ms McDonald said her party will not show "faux outrage" or "tea and sympathy" every time an elderly person is on a hospital trolley. She said Fine Gael had "given up the ghost" on universal health care and insisted Sinn Féin will introduce it.

Ms McDonald said anyone who says you do not have to invest billions of euro to improve the health care system is "telling porky pies".

Mr Kelly agreed with Ms McDonald that the healthcare system needs investment but insisted it has to be done gradually. He also praised Mr Reilly, who he said had very little funding to put into the healthcare system when he was minister.

Elsewhere, Barry Cowen dismissed criticism of Fianna Fáil's management of the country and insisted people did not want to talk "something that happened 14 years ago".

Mr Reilly said tax is very high in this country and Fine Gael wants to reduce it for all workers. Irish doctors are paid more than those in the UK but after tax, the take-home pay is less, he said.

However, Ms McDonald said Fine Gael's tax policy will "disproportionately benefit" those who are better paid and give a "tax bonanza" to the rich.

Mr Kelly dismissed Ms McDonald and Mr Cowen's stance on abolishing water charges as" populist nonsense".

Mr Cowen, who did not engage in the shouting matches, complained he was not given an opportunity to set out his points to the public.

Irish Independent

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