Sunday 17 November 2019

Scramble to publish key policies ahead of crucial Ard Fheis

Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

Fianna Fáil is scrambling to produce a series of key policy documents in the coming weeks ahead of a crucial Ard Fheis for party leader Micheál Martin and his frontbench team.

With a General Election fast approaching, public scrutiny of Fianna Fáil policies is inevitable.

But after four years of opposition, Fianna Fáil faces accusations of being without policies in key areas.

The party is fast-tracking policies in areas such as health, Irish Water and housing in time for its Ard Fheis on April 24.

But the party's policy team and frontbench spokespeople won't be able to produce policies in areas such as education and justice until the summer.

And no date has been set for the publication of its small business document, which is being spear-headed by Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness.

Party sources have insisted that the charge of being without policies is "unfair" given that the party published 32 policy documents and more than 90 pieces of legislation.

Some of the party's legislative progress has been commended - such as Finance spokesman Michael McGrath's work on mortgages. There have also been worthy campaigns on mental health issues and suicide awareness.

But a closer inspection of what is on offer reveals reams of pages filled with policies that are at best niche and at worst redundant.

For example, the party's transport spokesman Timmy Dooley has published one policy paper entitled 'Improving the Urban Cycling Experience'.

"The document includes plans to slash taxes on bike locks and invest some of the Government's €2.5bn construction stimulus package in cycle lanes."

There is also a policy document on ensuring Coillte remains under State control which proposes an 'adopt a tree' campaign.

However, what will be most worrying for Fianna Fáil supporters is the dearth of policies on key issues such as health, education and especially water.

On request for the party's water policy last week, the Irish Independent was sent a seven-page presentation which Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen gave to members in February.

The first five pages, excluding an introduction page, outline what the Government has spent to date on establishing Irish Water.

Health is another area where there is a policy void. The party's spokesman on health, Billy Kelleher, has yet to publish a paper on this area. The closest Mr Kelleher came to a policy document was writing the introduction to a paper by University College Cork professor Dr Brian Turner, who prepared a report for Fianna Fáil on Universal Health Insurance.

In education, spokesman Charlie McConalogue is working on a policy that will pledge a reduction in the teacher-pupil ratio.

Irish Independent

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