Fianna Fail in pledge to delay water charges
Water charges will be put off over the next five years if Fianna Fail manage to reverse the devastation the party suffered at the last election.
Micheal Martin’s ambitions took centre stage as the opposition leader’s manifesto was unveiled, including plans to stop the USC income levy for anyone earning up to 80,000 euro.
Some of the more topical policies see plans to increase the Garda force to 15,000 and open a new first time buyers’ savings scheme to help people get on the property ladder.
It is also planning to increase the state pension, scrap prescription charges and increase child benefit by 10 euro and reduce class sizes to 23:1.
Micheal Martin, Fianna Fail leader, said water charges would be deferred until 2021 when the need for the utility would be reviewed.
“This manifesto shows how we can cut costs for working families and invest in vital public services,” he said.
“It is built on showing our core priorities and what they mean to people at different stages of their lives. It reflects what we have heard from an unprecedented programme of reaching out to communities and listening to their concerns, hopes and aspirations.”
Other policies put forward by the party included freezing student fees for the next five years and new laws to criminalise cyber bullying.
Fine Gael announced proposals for an additional eight weeks’ paid leave by 2021, to be taken in the child’s first year by either parent.
Its Investing in Early Years Plan also promised a 2,000 euro annual subsidy for children in childcare facilities and free dental care for the under-sixes.
The party pledged to slash the size of classes and provide extra options for after-school care. A new speech and language service in schools would also be introduced.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “We know that the first five years of a child’s life last a lifetime. These years are critical in establishing the foundation for learning and future health.
“We want to invest in the early years so that we keep the recovery going and no child is left behind.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein outlined a vision to improve support services for people with disabilities.
Senator Trevor O Clochartaigh said it includes a 20 euro increase to the disability allowance; to award an automatic medical card to every child in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance; and to increase respite care services by 20%.
The party also wants to increase the budget allocation to disability services by 125.7 million euro and to invest 187 million euro to make all public transport services fully wheelchair accessible.
Mr O Clochartaigh said: “People with disabilities are one of the groups in our society most vulnerable to poverty and enforced deprivation. And this is a consequence of very deliberate actions by this government to dole out the worst of austerity measures on the most vulnerable.
“But there is another way. Sinn Fein has a vision for society in which all citizens can participate fully in life without being left behind. We will further the rights of people with disabilities, not diminish them.”
Affordable housing and worker rights was the focus for Labour on the campaign trail on Thursday.
Ministers Alan Kelly and Jan O’Sullivan launched the party’s “make homes affordable” plan in Limerick in the morning.
As well as commitment to build more houses, the plan includes a new save to buy scheme, a similar policy to Fianna Fail, and beefed-up rights for tenants as well as measures to tackle the homelessness problem.
“Affordability is the key theme for the Labour party and for housing policy in general,” said Mr Kelly.
“There are tentative signs of a housing recovery, planning permissions are up, completions are up and commencements are up.
“But we need much more. The sector is only beginning to stabilise, but an affordable home for all is a very real possibility if Labour are given another chance by the people to be in government.”
Later in the day Labour’s business and employment minister Ged Nash insisted steps to promote “fairness and decency” in the workplace would only be guaranteed if his party was returned to government.
“We will not permit abusive terms and conditions of employment – low pay, insecure hours or enforced bogus self-employment – to be imposed on the vulnerable, the low-paid and those with little social protection,” he said.