Odran Flynn takes an in-depth look at the main party in opposition's manifesto
Whether or not it was a coincidence that Michael Martin launched the Fianna Fail manifesto on the same day as the Newstalk/TV3 leaders’ debate only the party strategists know.
He has stolen a march of the two Government parties, although Sinn Fein was first of the big four to issue theirs on Tuesday.
The document is pretty much a reiteration of the measures promised at the Ard Fheis three weeks ago. The main items are abolition of USC for all on €80,000 or less and an 8% income tax premium on earnings above €100k, increased childcare provision, 250,000 additional jobs, the scrapping of Irish Water and the provision of 45,000 social houses.
Sounds familiar? Give or take a few details it is a mirror image of the Sinn Fein manifesto. Indeed like all the manifestos published to date and also no doubt, those still to come, everything is predicated on the “fiscal space” not shrinking.
What are the promises?
There really is something for virtually everyone in the audience. Pensioners are promised an extra €30 per week during the lifetime of the next Government and in addition the Living Alone Allowance would be increased from €9 to €15 per week.
While the proposed abolition of prescription charges and the reduction to €100 per month for the Drug Payment Scheme is relevant to everyone who uses the service, it is the pensioners who would have the most to gain. They will also legislate for mandatory sentences for assaults on the elderly. Coupled with an increase in home care packages and extra home help hours they clearly have an eye on the “grey” vote whose significance was highlighted by Newstalk FM last week.
They also promise to increase the numbers in An Garda Siochana to 15,000. Given that they were the party that closed the Garda training centre at Templemore, which meant that no new Garda passed out for five years, they must realise that to get that many into the force will take years. It also, of course, doesn’t take account of the attrition rate in the force through retirement and those leaving, many because of the low morale currently prevalent throughout the rank and file members.
With the USC changes costing some €2.6 Billion in a full year and the provision of 45,000 extra houses at a cost of €5.4 billion over a five-year period where is the money going to come from?
They, as with Sinn Fein, don’t actually tell us other than to allude to it being in the “fiscal space”. But given that they both use 250,000 for the number of new jobs that they will create strongly suggests that the extra tax revenue generated by the additional numbers at work will bridge the gap. It would also mean that if it was achieved the country would have full employment.
The issue with childcare?
Their childcare proposals are somewhat vague as they don’t indicate the age range or the numbers of children to benefit from the proposed tax credit. They do have a cost of €235 Million annually attached to them but I fail to see how it addresses anything other than a minority of the numbers who need to avail of it. When the Labour Party launched their childcare proposals three weeks ago, the Reality Check by Newstalk revealed that the €500 million that they were proposing would only meet the needs of some 50,000 children.
It cannot be a coincidence that today Labour has returned to the “promise table” with a new bid of some €800 million which is still, I believe, several hundred million short but significantly is almost four times the amount of the costs provided for in the Fianna Fail manifesto. Now while Fianna Fail are not going as far down the road as Labour in the extent of childcare support that they claim to offer, their proposals would appear to fall well short of the expectations and needs of families.
Fianna Fail is proposing the abolition of Irish Water and returning the management of the system to the 31 Local Authorities. One of the advantages of Irish Water was that at least the management of the repair and maintenance of the largely outdated pipes was centrally coordinated. The reversion of control to the councils means that there will be inconsistent levels of progress and even if centrally funded, cannot be guaranteed to be an improvement.
Apart from that, it is a populist promise and unless made would cede electoral ground to virtually all of the other opposition parties.
Education and the Diaspora
I take the same view on this proposal of additional taxing of those earning over €100,000 as I did on a similar proposal in Sinn Fein’s manifesto. That is it will deter people taking high end jobs when their skills would be more appreciated, certainly in terms of salary, in other countries. It is difficult to see this finding favour with the entrepreneurs who create wealth and jobs. It is also unlikely to entice home the most talented of our Diaspora.
In education, the promise is to reduce the teacher-pupil ratio to 23-1 by 2021 from its current ratio of 27-1. To help achieve this some 5,500 extra teachers will be employed. Given the extensive infrastructural changes required to implement the promise it is arguable if such a reduction in class sizes could be achieved in this time scale as the resources available are considerably less than those in the Celtic Tiger era.
What's the reality?
Effectively these are the major promises which are supplemented by a full range of other measures that attempt to cover any question that might be asked on the doorstep.
While, for very obvious reasons, Michael Martin will insist that he will lead the next Government, the probability is that he will not.
This document is consistent with the party’s year zero policy of drawing a line in the sand about anything prior to 2011. Therefore the most crucial factor is that for the next two weeks the focus will be on ensuring that the worst case scenario for Fianna Fail is that Michael Martin is leader of the opposition. Anything less would be an electoral disaster and not only spell the end of Martin’s political career but also put at risk Fianna Fail’s status as a major influence in the political landscape of this nation.
Given that situation, it is no surprise that this manifesto trades blow for blow with that of their deadliest rival Sinn Fein.
Next episode of this battle is tonight live at 9PM.