Sunday 17 December 2017

Kenny rallies the troops with final promises as Dail set to be dissolved


Election posters for Labour's Joanna Tuffy pictured erected on the Willsbrook Road, Lucan this morning. The posters have been erected at least a day earlier than permitted
Election posters for Labour's Joanna Tuffy pictured erected on the Willsbrook Road, Lucan this morning. The posters have been erected at least a day earlier than permitted
Labour's Pamela Kearns election posters on lamp posts along the Ballyboden Road in Dublin.

Fine Gael ministers have pledged to introduce strict rules surrounding patients lying on trolleys, a new package for the elderly and radical new laws in the area of cyber-crime at the final meeting of their Parliamentary Party before the General Election.

Seven Cabinet members briefed TDs and senators on the party's manifesto last night as Taoiseach Enda Kenny used his party to "go out on the doorsteps with confidence".

Mr Kenny received a round of applause at the private meeting in Leinster House, at which he insisted that the country's strong economy will finally allow the government, if re-elected, to fund effective public services.


He will finally call the General Election today, having confirmed his decision to dissolve the 31st Dail on his local radio station in Mayo.

After visiting the President in Aras an Uachtarain the Fine Gael leader will hold a joint press conference with Tanaiste Joan Burton where they will make a pitch for the Coalition to be re-elected.

Last night, TDs heard the Fine Gael manifesto will contain elements on climate change and supports for disabilities - areas the Government has been accused of neglecting.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said a key plank of the Fine Gael manifesto will be the creation of 200,000 new jobs by 2020. Giving his own lengthy briefing to those present, Health Minister Leo Varadkar called on candidates to hammer home the message to "keep the recovery going".

Mr Varadkar said that "incremental improvements" will take place in the health service but that the problems can not be resolved in the short term.

In a pledge deemed significant by a number of sources present, Mr Varadkar spoke about introducing new trolley targets for hospitals whereby they will be required to improve on their numbers by five per cent each year.

He is understood to have spoken about moving from the trolley count system to a "patient experience model" that has been put in place in the UK.

"He spoke about introducing new targets in order to make hospitals more accountable," said a source.

Mr Varadkar also said the manifesto will include a package for the elderly which will include improvements to home supports. Bed capacities will be increased in hospitals, a new stage of step-down bed facilities will be introduced and further investment in palliative care for the regions.

But he said the health manifesto will contain realistic commitments and will be fully costed.

"He said there will be no promises he cannot honour," said a source.

Meanwhile, Justice Frances Fitzgerald pledged radical new laws aimed at tackling cyber crime. She also spoke about the setting up of a family court and plans to investigate the finances of criminals who claim free legal aid.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Fine Gael has proven it has a strong record on the North, while Arts Minister Heather Humphreys spoke about keeping momentum going in relation to the 1916 commemorations.

Meanwhile, President Michael D Higgins has been being dragged into a political row after questioning the emphasis being placed on tax cuts ahead of the General Election.


Fianna Fail's Barry Cowen told the Herald that Mr Higgins needs to be "mindful of what he says" as his views could be used by individuals or parties in the upcoming election debate.

"Some people say the conventional role of the President is not what it was but at the same time the constitution has not changed," he said.

As head of State Mr Higgins is considered above politics but he suggested that a decent society and lower taxes are not compatible.

"Is it possible to have a decent society and at the same time continue to lower taxes for the purposes of securing the best short-term benefit?" he asked, during an interview with jouranlists earlier this week.

Yesterday, the Social Democrats were quick to welcome Mr Higgins' intervention saying it backed up the new party's core message.

"This timely reminder by the President only reinforces the Social Democrats core message that the choices we make now in this election will define us as a nation for decades to come," co-leader Roisin Shortall said.

"There is a clear choice to be made. Do we want an Ireland of US-style tax cuts where vital public services are run down or do we want to take a more long term view and construct an inclusive and fair society by investing in essential infrastructure and quality social services?," she said.

Mr Cowen said the President's statements "sound like a Labour line" and that he could be leaving himself open to being accused "of being in somebody's corner".

"He is above that and the office is above that. He has made some interventions in recent but policy matters like this it would be better left to those seeking office," Mr Cowen said.

Asked about Mr Higgins' comments on Newstalk Lunchtime yesterday Tanaiste Joan Burton said: "The President is above politics and I'm not going to stray into commenting on the President's position."

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