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Election face-off: Varadkar to unveil €11bn package; Martin hits out on health, housing

Election face-off: Varadkar to unveil €11bn package; Martin hits out on health, housing

By Daniel McConnell, Juno McEnroe, and Cianan Brennan

Fine Gael will unveil tax cuts and new spending plans totalling €11bn until 2025 in its bid to retain power following the calling of Election 2020 by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Taioseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media before dissolving the 32nd Dail at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo credit: Damien Eagers/PA Wire
Taioseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media before dissolving the 32nd Dail at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo credit: Damien Eagers/PA Wire

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are set to contest the most presidential-style general election in history, with Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in a race to become taoiseach.

Following days of speculation, Mr Varadkar called time on the 32nd Dáil before its scheduled return today, and announced that the country will go to the polls on Saturday, February 8, after a 24-day campaign.

Speaking exclusively to the Irish Examiner, Mr Varadkar said he wants to lead the next government to deliver the extra houses and health services needed — but that all of that depends of a good trade deal with the UK post-Brexit.

“We need to invest in housing, healthcare, and education, as well as rural development,” he said.

“All of that depends on a good trade deal with the UK after Brexit. I lead the best team to do that for Ireland alongside Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee.”

Fine Gael will formally launch its campaign in Monaghan, while Mr Martin and his party will kick off their campaign in Dublin.

Key details of both parties’ plans have emerged. The Irish Examiner has confirmed that:

  • The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, and finance minister will be the key players in Fine Gael’s campaign, with other ministers such as Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy playing more minor roles;
  • The party will promise to increase public spending and introduce further tax cuts amounting to €11bn over the next five years;
  • The tax cuts and spending increases will range between €1.6bn next year and €2.5bn in 2023;
  • Fianna Fáil’s campaign will primarily focus on Mr Martin and finance spokesman Michael McGrath;
  • The party is set to target Fine Gael’s failure to tackle the drug feuds in Dublin and Drogheda;
  • Fianna Fáil will offer tax breaks for small businesses.

According to Fine Gael sources, the party’s slogan, ‘A Future To Look Forward To’, seeks to make clear thatwhile progress has not yet been felt by everyone and there is more to do.

“The lessons of 2016 are learned, and well learned,” said one senior source. “We will champion our work on the economy and Brexit, — but we will also not seek to eke out a 1-1 draw in health and housing. We will be upfront about those.”

After informing the Cabinet of his decision, Mr Varadkar spoke to Fianna Fáil leader Mr Martin and other opposition leaders and informed them of his decision.

Michael Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, speaks to the media, with party colleague, Michael McGrath, TD, in Dublin after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed Ireland's General Election will be held on Saturday February 8. Photo credit: Damien Eagers/PA Wire
Michael Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, speaks to the media, with party colleague, Michael McGrath, TD, in Dublin after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed Ireland's General Election will be held on Saturday February 8. Photo credit: Damien Eagers/PA Wire

Announcing the election on the steps of Government Buildings, Mr Varadkar thanked the people for the opportunity to lead the country.

“It has been a privilege to lead this country as your Taoiseach for the last two and a half years,” he said. “Thank you for that honour, and for your trust in me.”

Mr Varadkar said he called the snap election in the best interests of the country, deciding to spare it a prolonged campaign which would have happened had he waited until April or May.

“I have always said that the election should happen at the best time for the country,” he said. “Now is that time. In deciding not to seek agreement on a date for an election in April or May, I do so knowing that, even if this was possible, we would effectively enter into a three- to four-3-4 month election campaign.”

Mr Martin said it is time for change.

It’s time for a new government that would really focus on tangible and incredible improvements in health, in housing, and on reducing the cost of living that’s impacting so many families across the country.

Mr Martin said voters, particularly young home-buyers who could not afford a home, were frustrated.

“People find it very difficult to buy a house, finding it very difficult to survive in the rental situation,” he said.

The opposition leader opened his party’s election battle by attacking Fine Gael’s newly released slogan for the campaign.

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