Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted on reaching agreement on property tax reforms with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin before agreeing on a date for the forthcoming general election, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
In a letter sent to Mr Martin before Christmas, the Taoiseach suggested he was open to dissolving the Dail after Easter, as suggested by the Fianna Fail leader, if he agreed to an “ambitious” legislative programme for the coming months.
Mr Varadkar said agreeing to reforms of the property tax system should be central to any deal struck between two party leaders, who are expected to hold talks on an election date in the coming days.
The move puts property tax at the centre of the election debate after the Government last year deferred any changes to the charge until 2021, and is also an attempt to out manoeuvre Mr Martin on a key issue before the vote is called.
Since freezing the tax, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said he planned to introduce a “modest” property tax increase next year by broadening the house valuation bands and cutting the rates at which it is paid. However, he has been reluctant to give details of how much property owners will pay.
Fianna Fail wants to adjust property tax rates separately for each local authority to ensure revenue streams are maintained and increases for homeowners are limited. Both parties want to end exemptions from the tax for houses bought after 2013.
Meanwhile, it can also be revealed Fine Gael’s election manifesto will promise to introduce free GP care for all children under 16 if the party is returned to government.
The election pledges comes ahead of Minister for Health Simon Harris announcing tomorrow he has received government approval to legislate for free GP care for all children under 13, starting with extending the scheme to seven- and eight-year-olds this year.
In his letter, the Taoiseach also insisted on allowing the Dail’s ethics committee to conclude its investigations into allegations of irregular voting by TDs, which includes Fianna Fail’s Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins.
The committee is also examining a new complaint about Fianna Fail’s Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers, who was previously reprimanded for voting for her colleague Dara Calleary.
Mr Varadkar said the two parties should also agree to introduce a new expenses system for members of Oireachtas, following the 'fobbing-in' controversy sparked by Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy.
"We need an ambitious programme for the period from the resumption of the Dail in January to the dissolution of the Dail, as proposed by you in April to the Easter recess," the Taoiseach said. "I am firmly of the opinion that no Government or Dail should be 'wound down'. Governments and the Dail should be active in their duties to the last moment."
Mr Varadkar said their policy priorities for the coming months should also include enacting the Climate Change Bill, the Official Languages Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill.
He said his other priorities include negotiating a future relationship with the UK after Brexit and engaging with the British government and the Northern Ireland parties to restore power-sharing in Stormont.
Finally, he said the two leaders should agree to publishing an Action Plan for Rural Ireland which would "capitalise" on the recently signed off on National Broadband Plan.
The Taoiseach also noted the Dail arithmetic has changed significantly since the confidence and supply arrangement was first agreed and said: "Fine Gael voting in favour of a confidence or money vote and Fianna Fail abstaining is no longer sufficient. I think it is reasonable of me to ask that you formally secure the support of all your TDs for this arrangement or agree to vote with the Government, where necessary, rather than abstain. This is the only way we can both be sure that it is sustainable."
Fine Gael has lost three TDs since the deal was agreed and Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness said he would vote in favour of a motion of no confidence in the Government if it was tabled in the new year.
A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said Mr Varadkar would be seeking a meeting with Mr Martin in the "near future" to discuss these matters further. "Any next steps would require a strongly stable voting basis," he added.
Mr Martin set out his priorities for supporting the Government up until the Easter in a letter he sent to Mr Varadkar before the Dail recess.
They include the enacting of a bill on open disclosure for healthcare workers in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal, a nursing home support scheme legislation and new laws to increase the income threshold for those over 70 who are not in receipt of medical cards.
He said there was also "an urgent need" to address online abuses in terms of spending during election campaigns that could be addressed through amending the social media transparency bill.
Meanwhile, Minister for State Michael D'Arcy has said the country faces having its first left-wing government if Fine Gael is not returned to power after an election.
Mr D'Arcy said if Fine Gael is the largest party after the election it will not support a minority government led by smaller parties. The minister said this means the next government could consist of Fianna Fail, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Sinn Fein.
"I think that's the other choice and I think people need to think long and hard before they elect Fianna Fail, Greens, Labour and Sinn Fein," Mr D'Arcy told the Sunday Independent. "Fianna Fail has always argued they are a centre-left party but then you put the Greens in and then you put Labour in and you really throw the can of petrol on it and you put in Sinn Fein - that's a left-wing government."
Mr D'Arcy said Fine Gael's election pitch against its nearest rival will be "one party destroyed the economy and another party fix it".
Speaking in the Department of Finance, he said: "I sat in this building, getting a briefing halfway through May of 2011 and it was the most shocking briefing I've ever received in my life.
"We had six weeks' money left... And after that, when I asked what happens in six weeks (I was told) we survived on what we brought in. And we were bringing in two-thirds of what we were spending in that period. So we were €20bn short," he added.
The general election trash-talking from the political parties is already becoming very tired and desperate. And, worryingly, we will most likely have to endure it for some months to come. You get the impression that even the politicians, who are spouting their prearranged party lines, may not be putting their heart into it. Or, at least, you hope so.