The party leaders' final #GE20 pitch.
Three questions. Three straight answers.

Sinn Fein - Mary Lou McDonald

Irish Examiner: Our readers have identified the need for better public services as an immediate priority. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Sinn Féin has put housing at the centre of our general election manifesto, and we are absolutely committed to tackling the housing crisis and we will solve it.

The single biggest failure of Fine Gael in government, supported by Fianna Fáil, is that rents are too high, Council house waiting lists are too long and affordable accommodation is non-existent. A whole generation of young people are locked out of homeownership.

Sinn Féin’s Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has set out how we will deliver the biggest public housing programme in the history of State and how we will cut rents and freeze them.

We will ensure that affordable housing is available and actually affordable for people.

To do this we will introduce legislation to reduce rents by up to €1,500 a year, via a refundable tax credit, and freeze them for three years.

We will also build 100,000 homes over five years, to include Council housing and affordable homes for renters and first time buyers.

These changes will make a meaningful difference in the lives of people at the cold front of the housing crisis.

Sinn Féin will also take real action to tackle the scourge of crime,

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have both starved the Gardaí of the resources they need to protect communities.

The bottom line is that we have too few Gardaí. Sinn Féin are proposing to deliver the biggest Garda recruitment drive in the history of the State to protect communities and disrupt the activities of criminal gangs. That’s what needed to keep communities and people safe.

Irish Examiner:: Our readers often mention their desire for a better and fairer society. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Unlike any of the other parties, Sinn Féin will ensure that people will have the right to retire at the age of 65 with a State pension.

That is what is fair, just and it is in line with the values of the Irish people.

Sending someone to a dole queue at the age of 65 is obscene and insisting that people have to work until they are almost 70, whether they want to or not, is obscene.

We will stop the pension age increase to 67 and we will return it to 65.

In 2011, the Labour Party and Fine Gael introduced the legislation to increase the pension age. Fianna Fáil supported this legislation and voted for it. Unlike others who have flip flopped on this issue, Sinn Féin opposed it then and now.

Sinn Féin will also work towards Irish unity because it is what’s best for the future of our island.

Everyone is talking about Irish Unity, except the government and Fianna Fáil.

The institutions in the north are back up and running and we need to start planning for a Unity referendum so that we can reap the economic benefits of a United Ireland.

Our manifesto commits to work for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and to establish an all-island representative Citizens Assembly to discuss and plan for Irish Unity.

In government, we will publish a White Paper on Irish Unity, establish a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Irish Unity and secure a unity referendum, north and south

Irish Examiner:: As party leader can you set out why the electorate should vote for you and your party. ?

There is less than 24 hours you cast your vote in the general election.

Sinn Féin have set out our stall very clearly in the course of this campaign.

We have made it crystal clear we will give workers and families a break if we are elected.

We have set out our vision for change and our alternative.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have had it all their own way for a century, their records speak for themselves and they’ve had their chance.

I have spoken over the past number of weeks with thousands of people. I have visited most constituencies across the country. I have visited many different communities and towns.

What people have told me is they want change.

I agree with them. I believe it’s time for change.

Because if the economy is doing well then why are ordinary workers and families not feeling it?

The truth is they're not. But I think they deserve a break

Sinn Féin is on your side.

We want to get in there to fix things and deliver.

And we have the team to do it.

Our plans are ambitious. But they are also fair, sensible, costed and achievable.

That is why Sinn Féin will:

- Reduce rents and freeze them.

- Legislate to guarantee your right to a pension at 65.

- Begin the work to deliver 100,000 homes.

- Re-open closed hospital beds.

- Legislate to abolish the USC on the first €30,000 of your income.

- End the insurance rip off.

- Establish a Citizens Assembly on Irish Unity.

We can do all of this, and more.

But we need your support.

Saturday is the day. So if you want real change, you need to come out and vote for Sinn Fein

Fianna Fail - Micheal Martin

Irish Examiner: Our readers have identified the need for better public services as an immediate priority. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Basic services are creaking under pressure from years of chronic under-investment.

People want to see a public service that delivers for all our citizens. There is a real thirst for change across the country to build a public service that is efficient and effective. Fianna Fáil is the only party with a credible plan for change that will actually deliver. For example, we will:

Put in place a 4:1 Ratio of investing in Public Services over Tax cuts

Our guiding priority in government will be improving delivery in our public services. In government we will commit to building a public service that delivers for all citizens and target any tax reductions on ordinary workers. Fianna Fáil is committed to a 4:1 ratio of investment in public services over tax cuts. This means an emphasis on investing in core services above cutting taxes. Out of an available €11bn in available budgetary resources investing some €8bn in public services such as housing and health over the next term of government.

Double the National Treatment Purchase Fund

Health is one example of an area where people feel that a core, basic public service is suffering from serious underinvestment. Other parties have emphasised the ten-year Sláintecare plan which we support. However, we believe that people can’t just be expected to wait a decade for treatment they need now. We will act immediately to get to grips with the crisis in our Health service. The National Treatment Purchase fund is a tried and proven mechanism to address waiting lists. Fianna Fáil will double funding to the National Treatment Purchase Fund to tackle waiting lists to €200m.

Our driving approach to public services will involve showing real leadership and energy backed up by investment that will improve and expand delivery to citizens across Ireland.

Irish Examiner: Our readers often mention their desire for a better and fairer society. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term.?

Ireland has a rich tradition of fairness and decency.

This is drawn from our deep sense of community and is an innate part of our sense of ourselves. People are deeply offended by the sight of homelessness on our streets and children living in hotel rooms. The national scandal of homelessness is a scar on our collective conscience. Fianna Fáil is committed to tackling the growing divides that cast a dark shadow over our country and is the only party with a credible plan that we can deliver. For example we will establish:

Establish a “Preventing Homelessness” fighting fund

The best way to tackle homeless is to prevent it. Renters in repossessed Buy to Let units are acutely vulnerable to eviction and homelessness. We need a rolling fund to purchase units, transfer them to Approved Housing Bodies and prevent evictions to ensure it does not exacerbate the homelessness crisis. We will set up a rolling acquisition fund in the Housing Agency to purchase repossessed units and keep those tenants in place. At current repossession numbers we will allocate €168m to purchase all repossessed Buy to Let units.

Tackle Child Poverty

We need to ensure each child gets a fair chance at life. Child poverty is snuffing out that immense potential before it has had the opportunity to flourish. Fianna Fáil will target measures to directly alleviate child poverty and live up to the best founding ideals of our republic. We will increase the Qualified Child Increase in each age bracket by €5.00 and increase expenditure on the school meals programme by 10%.

Ending long term homelessness and tackling child poverty will be key priorities for Fianna Fail in government as part of our overarching commitment to building an Ireland for all.

Irish Examiner: As party leader can you set out in no more than 250 words why the electorate should vote for you and your party.

I believe that much more can be done to deliver real progress for the Irish people on the critical issues of health, housing, the cost of living, the climate emergency and tackling crime. Fianna Fáil will bring a sense of urgency to tackling these issues.

There are far too many people left lingering on waiting lists and far too many families and children homeless.

Our plan for the next five years is fully costed and deliverable. Unlike others, we have not made any false promises.

We will prioritise treating at least 100,000 patients and remove the embargo on hiring frontline staff in the health service. We are determined to really tackle homelessness by increasing the supply of council and affordable homes.

We want young people to own their own homes. We will invest more in the Help to Buy Scheme, and introduce a Special Savings Scheme to help those who are saving for their first home.

We will introduce legislation to strengthen anti-social behaviour powers to protect communities, and to severely punish those who purchase drugs from children.

We will help families who are under immense pressure because of the cost of childcare by increasing the childcare subsidy scheme, extending the ECCE scheme and establishing a tax credit for those who use registered childminders. We will also increase maternity and paternity leave.

While other parties work to exploit problems, our approach has been to show how they can be tackled. Fine Gael is offering more of the same – while Sinn Fein’s deep reluctance to put the State before the interests of their own movement remains clear.

If you want to change the government, and you want a programme of deliverable action, then I am asking you to vote Fianna Fáil tomorrow.

Fine Gael - Leo Varadkar

Irish Examiner: Our readers have identified the need for better public services as an immediate priority. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Fine Gael wants to transform our public services by building on what has been achieved and doing more.

However I am not going to draw any red lines in these answers. We have seen from the Brexit negotiations, and the mistakes made by others, that red lines are not helpful when it comes making progress in politics. Change is achieved through negotiation and compromise, not by drawing red lines. So I will talk about some of my priorities and what we want to achieve.

My first priority is implementing Sláintecare, our plan to deliver affordable, quality healthcare to all. Fine Gael wants to make a long-term financial commitment to invest an additional €5 billion a year, on top of the existing level of annual investment of €17.4 billion, to resource our health service, to realise our ambitions, and to protect our population as it ages. This is something Fianna Fáil has failed to provide for in its manifesto. With the right investment, we can provide 2,600 extra hospital beds and 4,500 community beds, provide 80 additional Primary Care Centres and community diagnostic facilities, and develop three new elective hospitals in Cork, Dublin, and Galway focused on reducing waiting lists.

My second priority is housing. Fine Gael will double new home construction to 40,000 new homes every year to meet demand. It also involves improving the successful Help to Buy Scheme and expanding the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan. We want to ensure a fair deal for renters and provide homes for all families experiencing homelessness. Rebuilding our housing sector, after the disastrous effects of the last Fianna Fáil led government, is a different kind of service, but a vital one for our society.

Irish Examiner: Our readers often mention their desire for a better and fairer society. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

We have many things we want to do to build a better and fairer society, including new laws to close the gender pay gap, and to do more to help with the cost of childcare.

Two things I will discuss here are education and jobs, because I see education as the great leveller and jobs as the best way to reduce poverty and inequality.

Fine Gael believes that an investment in education is an investment in our future. We now spend over €11 billion on Education every year – more than ever before - and that reflects our belief in the importance of education in changing lives.

Fine Gael has an ambitious plan for education because it has the greatest capacity to change our country for the better. It can help us build a fairer society, as well as deliver a stronger economy. Our plan reduces educational disadvantage, supports children with special educational needs to achieve their full potential, and invests in leadership and continual professional development.

When it comes to jobs, we have a programme to create 200,000 jobs by 2025. This is sustainable, enterprise-based jobs growth, and will deal head-on with the threats our economy is facing. We must act now to protect jobs and the economy into the future. Fine Gael will improve the performance and productivity of our domestic SMEs, with a particular focus on export-oriented firms. It will also give a sustained focus to improving the quality of jobs and work-life balance. We need to ensure that the workplace is as open and responsive to the needs of workers as possible, so we can help people enjoy proper work-life balance. Our priority is to stay competitive, win the war for talent, and increase the participation rate in our workforce.

Irish Examiner: As party leader can you set out why the electorate should vote for you and your party. ?

This is a change election.

So I am asking for you to vote for change you can trust. Fine Gael has the plans to ensure we have a future to look forward to, one that builds on what we have achieved and does not risk sending us backwards.

Fine Gael has a plan for fairer taxes and higher wages - to reduce the cost of living for families – like childcare. A plan to invest – more hospital beds, transport, climate action and rural Ireland. A plan to build more homes and give first time buyers a leg-up. And we have the team to ensure Ireland gets a good deal post-Brexit because without that we won’t be able to afford to any of this.

During this campaign, you’ve heard a lot of promises. Promises on housing, pensions, healthcare and childcare. Lots of promises. But there’s one thing all these promises have in common.

They’re going to cost money, billions of euros and only a strong economy - winning more jobs and more investment - will generate those extra billions. Fine Gael is the only party that can ensure that Ireland has a strong economy for the next 5 years.

It should not be taken for granted.

So if you want investment in the health service and housing, if you want sensible climate action, more money in your pocket and affordable childcare, please trust us with your vote on Saturday.

Greens - Eamon Ryan

Irish Examiner: Our readers have identified the need for better public services as an immediate priority. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Our position on red lines is very clear we need to have climate change taken seriously in the next programme for government – that is our red line.

Initiatives that we will want to see is a substantial investment in walking cycling and public transport over roads. This is essential to lowering our emissions and providing better quality of life both in urban and rural Ireland.

We also need to see substantial investment in retrofitting of homes. We have a huge job to lower our energy use and to make our homes warmer and healthier. We want to see this work targeted at vulnerable groups.

Irish Examiner: Our readers often mention their desire for a better and fairer society. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term.?

We need to see a substantial investment in housing and health to make life better and fairer.

A single-tier health system based on need rather than the ability to pay. We need to see commitment to Slaintecare in any programme for government.

We also need to see major investment in a housing – building public housing on public land. We will also need to make sure these homes are close to services and efficient so that they don’t lock people into long commutes and fossil fuel heating.

Both of these measures will go a long way to develop a more equitable society where people have access to a home and good quality healthcare.

Irish Examiner: As party leader can you set out in no more than 250 words why the electorate should vote for you and your party.

This election gives you the choice of where our country goes from here.

We should think long term so we set off on the right path in the next few years.

This decade will be critical in addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis we face. We will rise to the challenge when everyone is included and every place benefits from the transition.

It is a change to a better economy, where everyone has access to a secure home, good healthcare and the opportunity for lifelong learning; where we measure progress by the quality of our lives and the strength of our communities.

If you want this green future for Ireland then vote Green tomorrow.

Labour - Brendan Howlin

Irish Examiner: Our readers have identified the need for better public services as an immediate priority. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Labour has prioritised two key areas in this election: building homes and fixing health.

Labour is proposing a five-year €16 billion social and affordable home building programme that will deliver 80,000 homes. Investment of this scale and ambition is necessary to end homelessness and offer families secure, affordable homes.

Until this new supply of social and affordable housing comes on stream, we’ve got to help renters. One of the biggest drivers of homelessness is people losing their homes through rent hikes. Labour will bring in a rent freeze for three years and much stronger rent control.

Labour has also prioritised radical reform in health. We will invest an additional €1 billion per year in the health service. This will achieve important goals such as ending the HSE recruitment embargo, delivering increased hospital beds, and ensuring speedy access to home help assistance.

We will also invest more at primary care level. For example, we need to ensure that medical tests and support for long-term illness are available at local level, taking pressure off our A&E units.

We will begin the rollout of a public childcare system, take radical climate action, and commit to keeping the pension age at 66, a living wage, and improved rights for people at work.

Labour has made a clear choice in this election. We believe the priority for the next five years must be building homes and fixing health. We haven’t engaged in the auction politics of the big three parties. They are trying to fool people by promising big tax giveaways alongside massive public spending. Only Labour is prioritising public investment in health and housing.

Irish Examiner: Our readers often mention their desire for a better and fairer society. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Labour is the party of work and we recognise how we work is changing.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have better pay, job security and the ability to balance work, family and other commitments. Too many people are underpaid, and wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, especially for young workers and young families.

Two important initiatives in our wide-ranging agenda for workers’ rights are:

1. Minimum wage

Labour will raise the minimum wage to be a real living wage, within three years. The Low Pay Commission will have the role of setting out how the minimum wage will remain above two-thirds of median income (as it was originally in 2000) and sufficient to provide a minimum essential standard of living. Labour established the Low Pay Commission and reversed Fianna Fail’s cut to the minimum wage. We will stand by low paid workers and fight for improvements in their pay.

2. Union representation

Labour will guarantee everyone the right to be represented at work by a trade union, and employers will be required to negotiate with their employee’s representatives. This system, collective bargaining, is the norm across Europe and it underpins the productivity and resilience of social democratic economies.

International experience clearly demonstrates that workers represented by a trade union have better pay, better terms and conditions and work in a more respectful environment. We will ensure a right of access for trade union representatives to workplaces, including through constitutional change if required. Labour will also tackle the gig economy. We will eliminate bogus self-employment and ‘if and when’ arrangements and we will enforce a right to certainty of working hours for people in precarious employment.

Irish Examiner: As party leader can you set out why the electorate should vote for you and your party. ?

On the 8th February you will choose the direction that Ireland takes over the next five years. And there is a clear choice.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have followed a market-driven agenda since 2016 and they want more of the same. Both look to the private sector to solve public problems.

It’s not working and people know it. We need change.

Labour has been clear, honest and straightforward in our vision for a fairer Ireland.

We’ll stop the waste of public money, build homes and fix health.

Over the next five years we will prioritise housing, our health service, childcare and climate action.

Labour is the one major party in this election that is not promising huge spending increases and massive tax giveaways. We won’t do it because it isn’t credible.

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are all engaging in auction politics. Their numbers don’t add up. You can’t spend the same euro twice.

There is a real danger that, in a desperate bid for votes, these parties are going to weaken the public finances again, promise the earth and put us on the same road that led to the collapse of the economy in 2008.

Labour is different. We’ve been clear about our priorities and how we will pay for them. We want change. We want the State to take the lead in building homes and fixing the health service. We understand and are committed to radical action on climate that reduces emissions, promotes biodiversity and provides a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.

On Saturday vote for change, vote for real solutions, vote for Labour.

Social Democrats - Catherine Murphy and Roisin Shorthall

Irish Examiner: Our readers have identified the need for better public services as an immediate priority. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

As Social Democrats, the provision of quality public services which actually serve the public, is the fundamental basis of our politics.

A key priority for us will be a robust commitment to funding the implementation of Slaintecare. One of the most basic functions of a Republic is to put in place the necessary services to keep people well and to treat them when they are sick.

Slaintecare - an initiative instigated by the Social Democrats back in 2016 and then adopted by all parties – sets out a road-map to move from a crisis-driven approach to one that focuses instead on community care, prevention, and equal access for all based on medical need rather than ability to pay.

In Housing, the current market-led approach has created the housing and homelessness crisis that we now find ourselves in. As social democrats we believe that housing is a fundamental right. We want to radically rethink public policy in order to deliver good quality housing at the lowest possible cost to purchasers and renters.

Central to this is prioritising the use of public land to build affordable and social housing. Developing public land banks is the only certain way in the short to medium term of delivering housing faster and at affordable prices.

Irish Examiner: Our readers often mention their desire for a better and fairer society. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term.?

Our manifesto sets out the critical need to improve job security for workers

Our manifesto sets out the critical need to improve job security for workers. The focus must also be on quality jobs. While it is true to say we now have high employment figures, it is also true that we have the 2ndhighest number of low paid workers in Europe – only Latvia fares worse than us. Progressing to a living wage and improving job protection and conditions for part-time casual workers can significantly reduce the numbers of people caught in poverty.

As an overriding mission, the Social Democrats are determined to prioritise measures to eradicate poverty in society by ensuring all budgets are poverty-proofed as well as updating the official measures of poverty to include significant costs such as housing. We would base much of our policy of the Minimum Essential Living Standards measure in order to maximise fairness and equality in society.

Another key issue for those of us seeking a fairer and better society is a focus on work/life balance issues. Our campaign has focused on finding ways to address the major issue of time poverty facing many working families – those who find themselves with long commutes, extra hours to try to pay exorbitant rents or mortgages, childcare costs and only seeing their children very early in the morning and late at night. We want to introduce a right to flexible work as a means of helping families find more time for their loved ones and themselves! In doing so you immediately improve people’s quality of live.

Irish Examiner: As party leader can you set out in no more than 250 words why the electorate should vote for you and your party.

The Social Democrats trademark is standing up and speaking out.

We fundamentally believe that in order to restore trust in Irish public and political life there has got to be meaningful transparency and accountability to stamp out corruption.

That is why we have consistently called for the establishment of an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency.

Solidarity / PBP - Richard Boyd Barrett

Irish Examiner: Our readers have identified the need for better public services as an immediate priority. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

In short health and public transport

The first initiative is on health. Here we would take measures to guarantee access to emergency hospital care within 4 hours of presenting, elective inpatient care within 12 weeks of referral, outpatient care within 10 weeks and diagnostic procedures within ten days.

This are basic European standards which are not being met because Ireland has one of the worst records for access to hospital treatment. How would this be achieved?

We need to move to move to 21,000 beds nationally. Our healthcare services are crying out for extra capacity. People Before Profit would halt all hospital closures, service reductions and staff cuts. We would re-open closed wards and increase bed capacity to 21,000 beds nationally to bring bed capacity to just the EU average of 4.8 beds per 1,000 population (bear in mind 35,000 beds would be required to bring our bed capacity up to Germany’s standard).

To recruit nurses we would increase pay and restore the working week to 37 hours.

The second initiative is to move to free public transport. We would add 500 new electric buses to the feet annually until 2030. This would cost an estimated €350 annually.

We would then slash public transport fares and move rapidly to a new system of free public transport. This will help eliminate congestion in our cities and reduce the number of people who die each year from poor air quality – an estimated 1,500.

How shall we pay for this? By a major increase in taxes on the billionaires, the big corporations the vulture funds and those receiving over €100,000.

Irish Examiner: Our readers often mention their desire for a better and fairer society. Can you highlight two policy initiatives in this regard whose achievement will be red line issues for you and your party / grouping in the next Dail term?

Housing and childcare.

High rents and dear houses is forcing young people to stay in their family home and homelessness has become a scourge on Irish society.

We would tackle the housing crisis with clear and decisive measures.

1. There would be an immediate ban on the sale of public land. This should be used to build social and affordable homes.

2. A national housing emergency would be declared and rent controls introduced immediately. Rents would be frozen and tenants would be allowed to apply to an independent arbitrator for rent reductions.

3. Building land around cities would be subject to an order valuing it at agricultural rates to prevent speculation and to create the possibility of affordable housing.

The second initiative is on childcare. Currently Ireland spends just 0.2% of its GDP on childcare. The European average is four times higher.

We would immediately increase investment in the sector to guarantee each child 33 hours free care in an expanded system.

We would seek to, over time, integrate the privately run creches into a publicly ruin system of childcare,.

Nobody suggests that a child agreed 4 is not entitled to free, state education in a public system. So why should it be different for a 3 or 2 year old.

How would we pay for it? Again, we would tax the wealthy and also let’s remember a new government could drop the absurd case to allow Apple withhold 13 billion in back tax that it owe3s us – plus interest,

Irish Examiner: As party leader can you set out why the electorate should vote for you and your party. ?

We could have Ireland’s first left government – with Fine Gael or Fianna Fail gone.

That is what all the polls are telling us. Their combined vote is less than 45%.

A left government could tackle the housing crisis by building tens of thousands of homes on public land. It could freeze rent. It could open the thousands of hospital beds. It could restore the pension age to 65. It could make Ireland a model on how to tackle climate change –rather than facing EU fines for inaction.