Sunday 21 January 2018

Fianna Fáil refuses to rule out giving support to minority FG-led government

Fianna Fáil Leader Michéal Martin. Pic Steve Humphreys
Fianna Fáil Leader Michéal Martin. Pic Steve Humphreys

Majella O'Sullivan and Eilish O'Regan

Fianna Fáil leader Míchéal Martin has failed to definitively rule out his party supporting a minority government led by Fine Gael.

Mr Martin and his director of elections, Billy Kelleher, have said the party's election focus is on building its vote in hopes of leading the next government. But both insisted everybody must await the election results and not second-guess voters.

"Our position is we want to lead the next Government and there has to be a choice before the Irish people," Mr Martin said on the canvass in Kerry.

But in a lengthy RTE radio interview he pointedly refused to say his party would not support a minority government in a hung Dáil. "I'm not going down that route now because I want to be leading a party that's a majority," Mr Martin.

Similarly, Mr Kelleher again ruled out several coalition options but notably did not rule out supporting a minority government. He was launching Fianna Fail's health policy, which promises to phase out the unpopular €2.50 prescription charge for medical card holders.

But the party would not extend free GP care beyond the under-sixes and over-70s. The charge, originally introduced by the Fianna Fáil-led government, is now a significant generator of income for the HSE. But Mr Kelleher said it was a financial burden for vulnerable groups such as pensioners.

He said existing groups with free GP care under the outgoing government would hold on to the benefit - but Fianna Fail would direct resources instead to children with disabilities. It would give a full medical card to all children whose family are getting the Domiciliary Care Allowance, who currently number around 31,837.

Mr Kelleher said this would form part of a €1.3bn extra health investment which would direct resources where they were needed most.

The party would also reduce the Drug Payment Threshold from €144 to €100. The plan also envisages the recruitment of 4,000 more nurses and 500 additional senior doctors,

The party would open 400 extra beds and have medical assessment units open on a seven-day basis with daily diagnostic scans. These would tackle the current trolley crisis.

No patient would be in a hospital emergency department for more than six hours and the National Treatment Purchase Fund would be revived to pay for treatments for public patients in private hospitals, in Northern Ireland, and abroad.

The surgery waiting time target would be three to six months. GPs would be incentivised with a rural practice allowance of €25,000, up from the current sum of €16,212. Incentives would also be offered to get GPs to work to the age of 70 and overall GP numbers would increase by 250 by 2021.

A sugar tax on fizzy drinks, would add an average of six cent to a can and raise €71m. Alcohol companies' sports sponsorship would be phased out and take-aways banned near schools.

FF plans to establish a new statutory National Mental Health Authority to lead an national programme to promote positive attitudes to mental health and reduce the incidence of self-harm and suicide.

The Fair Deal nursing home scheme would get an additional €35m annually.

Irish Independent

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