Sunday 24 June 2018

Fine Gael plotting attack on Fianna Fáil over '€1.5bn populist spending demands'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is planning to paint Fianna Fáil as a “populist” party whose spending would damage the economy. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is planning to paint Fianna Fáil as a “populist” party whose spending would damage the economy. Photo: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A secret Fine Gael working group has been devising a plan to launch a serious attack on Fianna Fáil in the build-up to Budget 2019, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The small, internal team has spent recent weeks compiling a list of spending demands made by opposition spokespeople in preparation for the most difficult of the three budgets under the confidence and supply arrangement.

They have calculated Micheál Martin's party has sought spending worth a "conservative" €1.5bn since the start of this year alone.

Documents seen by this newspaper also show Taoiseach Leo Varadkar plans to paint Fianna Fáil as a "populist" party with "roulette wheel economics".

Fears that a battle between the two parties to take ownership of October's Budget could spark an election will be heightened by news of the group's ongoing analysis of every statement being made by Fianna Fáil TDs.

The committee, which is primarily compromised of Fine Gael staff members, is acting at the behest of the Taoiseach, who warned in April that he would be "keeping a record of all the promises" made by Mr Martin.

However, Fine Gael TD for Longford/Westmeath Peter Burke, who is a chartered accountant, confirmed to the Irish Independent he had been involved behind the scenes on costing proposals.

A preliminary report contains a breakdown of individual demands made by Fianna Fáil frontbench TDs in either the media or the Dáil. It describes a figure of €1.5bn as "a minimum and conservative estimate" because it does not include "25 further spending calls which we have been unable to cost".

Among the list of costed items cited are an extra €200m to support suckler farmers, an additional €163m spending on roads, and €120m to reverse Fempi cuts to GPs.

The group's analysis is expected to be widely shared as Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe prepares to do battle with Fianna Fáil's finance spokesmen Michael McGrath and Barry Cowen.

Mr Donohoe has previously indicated €1.3bn will be available on Budget Day for new tax cuts and spending increases.

Sources in both parties have admitted to having doubts over whether it will be possible to hammer out a budget that suits both sides.

Damage

Despite the potential to damage relations between the two largest parties, Mr Burke last night stood firmly by the study, saying it showed the "reckless, populist and uncosted policies that would lead the country back down the road to ruin at a time when the Government is balancing the books for the first time in 10 years".

He said Fianna Fáil needed to be challenged for failing to produce "real figures to back up reckless spending calls".

"Hoping your numbers will come up is not socially responsible government," he said.

"Michael McGrath speaks of fiscal prudence and yet he allows his Fianna Fáil colleagues to run wild with hundreds of millions in extra spending being promised every week to every interest group.

"None of these promises can be trusted, this is dishonest politics," Mr Burke said.

Irish Independent

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