Fine Gael has pledged to deliver the biggest shake-up of social welfare in a generation as the party outlined key pre-election promises on the economy, health, and justice.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan led attacks on Fianna Fáil, saying their claim of responsibility for the economic recovery was akin to Comical Ali claiming victory in Iraq when the tanks were coming into Baghdad.
Mr Noonan also said there was not a hope of voters giving Fine Gael a majority in the election.
Promises of 600 new gardaí, tax equalisation for the self employed, the abolition of USC over a five-year period, a second free pre-school year, and increases in the state pension were among the pledges that voters will hear, delegates were told.
Several ministers reiterated Fine Gael’s promise to overhaul the welfare system. Outlining the main change planned, if the party is returned, junior finance minister Simon Harris said: “Working parents with two children will benefit by more than €1,500 per year under Fine Gael’s plans to replace family income supplement with a new working family payment.
"We’ll offer every parent working at least 15 hours per week a ‘better off at work guarantee’ and ensure they earn at least €11.75 per hour. This will be the biggest shake-up in social welfare policy in a generation.”
Mr Noonan took issue with Fianna Fáil laying claim to being part of the recovery:
“This claim reminds me of Comical Ali in Baghdad claiming victory while the American tanks rolled in behind him.”
Mr Noonan said Fine Gael’s plans would, by 2020, move 70,000 long-term unemployed people into a job, and cut the national unemployment rate to 6%.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said Fine Gael would introduce the next phases of universal healthcare, including free GP care for all children, a scheme to lower medicine costs, a focus on managing chronic disease outside of hospitals and better care provision to keep people in their own homes for longer.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said Fine Gael would continue recruiting gardaí at a rate of at least 600 a year “until we get the strength of the force back up to 14,000 and beyond”.
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