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'Families will have opportunity to buy bargain housing plots to ease crisis'

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Mood music: Leo Varadkar and candidate Emer Currie join a ukulele class at Castleknock Community College, Dublin. PhOTO: GARETH CHANEY/COLLINS

Mood music: Leo Varadkar and candidate Emer Currie join a ukulele class at Castleknock Community College, Dublin. PhOTO: GARETH CHANEY/COLLINS

Mood music: Leo Varadkar and candidate Emer Currie join a ukulele class at Castleknock Community College, Dublin. PhOTO: GARETH CHANEY/COLLINS

Families will be able to buy State-owned sites at knockdown prices as part of a Fine Gael plan to encourage people to move to rural towns and villages.

The new scheme is central to the party’s election manifesto and will see them offer potential homeowners plots of publicly owned land in rural communities at cost price.

The land will be connected to roads, water and electricity when sold and those buying the plots will be asked to contract a developer to build their homes.

Fine Gael believes there are at least 1,400 sites in rural communities it says will provide about 8,000 new homes.

Any site offered under the scheme will be big enough to accommodate between four and six new houses.

The plan is aimed at encouraging people to live in towns and villages rather than construct one-off houses in more rural areas with a population of fewer than 2,000 people.

Local authorities will be charged with selling sites and will not be permitted to make a profit from the sale of the land.

Councils will also be able to buy sites in populated ruralareas and sell them on if it makes financial sense.

The scheme will only be available to owner-occupiers and anyone buying a site will have to commit to living in the house for a certain period.

The local authority run project will be open to first-time buyers and downsizers. The aim is to increase the housing stock and repopulate towns and villages that were badly affected by the crash.

Some of the sites are derelict bus depots on Office of Public Works land which are no longer in use. The brownfield plots will have a low market value but connected to local services ahead of sale.

Buyers will be expected to apply for planning permission themselves but as the sites are in towns they are not expected to face much difficulty.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are set to make election manifesto promises to increase the universal childcare subsidy in a move to win the votes of young families.

At an event today, Fine Gael will pledge to increase the payment for under-threes from €20-per-week to €100-per week on a phased basis.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will also say he will increase in the early childhood care and education (ECCE) free childcare scheme for three- to five-year-olds from 38 weeks to 42 by 2025. This represents savings for parents of up to €972.

Fine Gael also plans to increase the €60,000 income threshold for the targeted childcare scheme of increased subsidies.

Fianna Fáil is expected to promise an increase in the child subsidy payment to €80 over the next five years. Leader Micheál Martin will also pledge to increase maternity leave by four weeks and double paternity leave, currently set at two weeks.

The party will also promise to reduce capital gains tax from 33pc to 25pc over the lifetime of the next government.

There will also be a pledge to increase the State pension by €25 a week over the next five years and hike disability payments by €10 per week.

Fine Gael has also said it will increase the pension by €5 per week every year for the next five years.

Fianna Fáil will vow to ban vaping and e-cigarettes for anyone under 18 and also prohibit the sale of flavours which may be attractive to children.

The election commitments come after Mr Martin ruled out a grand coalition with Fine Gael as he bids instead to become the next Taoiseach.

His comments came after Mr Varadkar said it would be "the responsible thing to do for the country" if his party could not form a government with other smaller parties.

Mr Martin's declaration will be seen by some in Fianna Fáil as a tacit admission that this General Election represents his last opportunity to become Taoiseach at the third attempt.

After failing to make his views on a grand coalition known during or immediately after Wednesday's televised debate, it was also an effort to ease any fears in Fianna Fáil that the party could keep Fine Gael and some of its more unpopular Cabinet ministers in office after the election.

"We will not be entering into a grand coalition. The people want change.

"It's very clear the message we're receiving, people want change in this country. They want Fine Gael out of office.

"I've made it very clear we want to go into government with other centre parties," Mr Martin said yesterday on the campaign trail in Dublin.

"Clearly Labour and the Green Party are the other parties that we want to go into government with - obviously that is to be determined by the people - and others as well and that is our very clear position.

"That is our position, Fine Gael needs to come out of government. It's been there too long."

But Mr Varadkar insisted yesterday he was still open to the possibility having initially raised it in the first head-to-head debate of the campaign.

"If the numbers fall a certain way and the only way to form a stable government is for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to cooperate and come together I think that's the responsible thing to do for the country.

"We've seen in Spain and in Israel where politicians have plunged their country into second elections and third elections and the results don't change very much," he said while campaigning in his Dublin West constituency.

Mr Martin said yesterday Fine Gael was "demonising Fianna Fáil as the worst possible incarnation" but was now proposing a possible government with the party.

Irish Independent