TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has promised to reform social welfare, lower childcare costs, a new care scheme for the elderly, and more home working if Fine Gael returns to government.
In a lengthy email to Fine Gael members on Wednesday night Mr Varadkar outlined his party's priorities for the programme for government that is currently being negotiated with Fianna Fáil and the Greens.
He also promised to prioritise rebuilding Fine Gael if it enters government for a third successive term, saying it is one of his "big regrets" that he had been unable to focus on his role as party leader in recent years because of the time taken up by being Taoiseach.
“It is one of my big regrets that I haven’t had more time to focus on being party leader and modernising and rejuvenating the party,” Mr Varadkar wrote.
“So much time was taken up being Taoiseach, keeping the Government together, dealing with Brexit and preparing for an election that always seemed to be only a few months away.
“That's going to change and I'll make sure of it. The future of the party will be prioritised.”
Mr Varadkar said that if the party returns to government for a third time it will have to “mind Fine Gael much better” and that if the organisation is rebuilt locally and nationally then it can win the next general election and be the largest party in 2025.
Mr Varadkar said that Fine Gael will not re-enter government “at any cost” and that any programme for government agreed with Fianna Fáil and the Greens must be true to the party’s values and consistent with its policies.
He outlined a series of priorities for Fine Gael in the government talks, including an ambitious economic recovery plan and the protection of farmers’ incomes. “Farmers are the custodians of the land and we see them as a vital part of the solution to climate change," he wrote.
He said Fine Gael wants to continue work of the Land Development Agency to deliver affordable housing and added: “We believe in a new social contract that makes the next big moves towards universal healthcare and a reformed social insurance system the provides a stronger safety net when you need it in return for the contributions you made when you could.”
Mr Varadkar also warned that the next government will have to deal with the deficit as “excessive debt will become a burden on our society and constrain the ambitions of future generations.”
He said that Fine Gael wants to protect incomes so that more people are not forced to pay the highest rate of income tax in the coming years.
He also said that Fine Gael wants a "New Care Deal for Ireland" that will reduce the cost of childcare, put a home care scheme for older people on a statutory footing, improve parental leave and promote home working.
In his email to Fine Gael members, Mr Varadkar also claimed that none of the major Covid-19 welfare supports introduced by the Government in recent months would have been possible without his party’s management of the economy over the last decade.
"We were right to govern as we did, even though it was not always popular, and we acted wisely in refusing the demands of our opponents to spend more and borrow more when the economy was booming. Had we listened to them, we'd have been much more exposed to the economic impact of this crisis."
He expressed concern at calls to accelerate the reopening roadmap. “Our plan to re-open the country can be accelerated if it (sic) safe to do so. But, I want to be confident that it is safe before making that move,” he added.