FG on election footing with new 'living' manifesto to be written
Fine Gael is to move away from producing a single pre-election manifesto to a "living document" in a bid to set the agenda of the next vote.
While saying he wants to make the current Government last, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has effectively put his party on an election footing.
He has asked Education Minister Richard Bruton to compile a report on how to "build our Republic of Opportunity" in time for the party's annual conference in November.
The document will set out proposals up to 2025 in what the Taoiseach described as "a new departure in Irish politics".
"Heretofore, the only time a party set out its platform, its vision, and subjected it to any level of scrutiny, was halfway through an election campaign when it launched its manifesto.
"These manifestos are largely a long list of promises to the vested interests that shout the loudest, and are launched too far into the campaign for the public to meaningfully engage with them," Mr Varadkar said.
Mr Bruton said he would be consulting widely within and outside of the party before publicly launching his work so that ideas are no longer "sprung" on people before elections.
Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ex-finance minister Michael Noonan failed to attend the first day of the party think-in but Mr Bruton said they would be "intimately involved" in his plans.
Privately many TDs who spoke to the Irish Independent at the party gathering in Clonmel said they anticipated an election at some stage next year.
"We have to be ready but the truth is we are not in a hurry for an election," said one minister.
Mr Varadkar said he wanted a "roadmap to the Republic of Opportunity" so that the public had a "clear understanding of our long-term perspective of the country".
Given an outline of his plans, the Taoiseach said: "High taxes on the middle classes are a barrier to opportunity and to work. They are a cap on aspiration and there should be no cap on aspiration in the Republic we wish to build. We also want to develop a new social contract based on the contributory principle - the principle that everyone who can should make a contribution, and everyone should benefit in return.
"To do that, we want to expand and improve social insurance-related benefits."
The Taoiseach said his proposal to amalgamate USC and PRSI would be "a complex and challenging task that would take many budgets but, when completed, it would mean having a new European-style social insurance system in Ireland".
He denied the 'Republic of Opportunity' is a "slogan or empty PR".
"It is a way of thinking about how to improve people's lives and we're only getting started," he said.
In relation to the Budget, Mr Varadkar said: "Next month, for the first time in 10 years, we will publish a budget that will balance the books."
In his behind-closed-doors presentation, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told the gathering that Ireland would need to start planning for more cities.
He said infrastructure spending would have to be ramped up as the population is set to grow by 20pc before 2040.
A source said: "He was very positive but warned we have to offer people certainty in a risky environment."
Mr Donohoe said priorities for his department were health, housing, roads, broadband and schools.
He outlined four key targets for Budget 2018:
Achieve a balanced budget;
Invest in housing, health and Brexit-proofing initiatives;
Make "steady and affordable progress" to reduce high tax rates for low and middle income earners;
Support families and businesses to plan for the future.