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Fine Gael multi-billion euro spending package 'doesn't add up'

Published 04/02/2016

Labour leader Joan Burton said her party's plan would create 150,000 jobs by 2018
Labour leader Joan Burton said her party's plan would create 150,000 jobs by 2018

Election front-runner Fine Gael has come under attack from rivals over its sums after launching a 10 billion euro (£7.7bn) package of spending and tax cut promises.

Lifting the curtain on its much-vaunted long-term economic plan, the party vowed to focus on job creation, income tax cuts and public sector jobs if returned to power.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged to create 50,000 jobs every year between now and 2020 - cutting the unemployment rate from 10% to 6% of the workforce.

The new jobs would also entice 70,000 people who fled the country during the economic crash back home, he claimed.

The party originally claimed it had 12 billion euro (£9.2bn) to work with in its five-year plan.

But after critics picked holes in the figures, Fine Gael has admitted it has two billion euro (£2bn) less for the pledged spending and tax cuts.

It has promised to spend 4.2 billion euro (£3.2bn) on public services, including the recruitment of 10,000 new doctors, nurses, gardai, teachers, social workers and other frontline workers.

Another 2.5 billion euro (£1.9bn) would go towards a rainy day fund in three years time as an insurance policy against future economic shocks.

Under the plan, they would also bring in multi-billion euro "targeted improvements" to welfare payments and services for the elderly, disabled, sick and carers as well as tax cuts.

But Pearse Doherty, Sinn Fein's finance spokesman, said the economic plans were "watered down" and "all over the place" since questions were asked about their calculations.

"It is clear that Fine Gael has been caught out as their figures don't add up," he said.

"Fine Gael plans will now give massive tax breaks to the wealthy while imposing additional taxes on the struggling families.

"The Taoiseach will benefit by over 12,000 euro (£9,200), while minimum wage workers are brought into the PRSI net."

Michael McGrath, Fianna Fail's finance spokesman, said Fine Gael's numbers "simply don't add up".

"This government has brought the whole issue of broken promises to a new level," he added.

Mr McGrath also attacked Mr Kenny for not appearing on a television interview with other party leaders and for limiting questions from journalists during his first press conference of the general election campaign.

"This isn't North Korea," he said.

On the first full day of the election campaign, the Labour Party committed to a minimum wage of 11.30 euro an hour (£8.70).

Tanaiste Joan Burton reiterated the promise to have full employment in the country in the next two years and also vowed to create 50,000 apprenticeships by 2021.

She said her party's plan would create 150,000 jobs by 2018.

In a package costed at 954 million euro (£733m) in total, she also pledged to rewrite welfare rules to develop a new Working Family Benefit which would allow low paid working parents to earn at least 12 euro an hour, with qualification for the new system based on people's income rather than the hours they work.

Launching its campaign, the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit party claimed it was on the cusp of becoming the third largest in Dublin with around a tenth of the vote.

Outgoing TD Paul Murphy said: "Change is happening very fast. Sections of the media are not aware of the extent of radicalisation."

Eamon Ryan, Green Party leader, ruled out any cuts in the universal social charge because of the state of the world economy.

His party would focus on housing, health and transport if elected, he said.

Separately, Independent TD Peter Matthews who is standing for re-election in Dublin-Rathdown, said he would continue his campaign despite being unexpectedly diagnosed with oesophageal cancer last month.

"With the necessary treatment the cancer is curable, and I expect to be back in full health on completion of treatment over the next number of months," he said.

The latest opinion poll in the campaign, by Ipsos MRBI for the Irish Times, puts Fine Gael on 28%, down two points; Fianna Fal on 21%, up two; Sinn Fein on 19%, down two; Labour at 7%, unchanged; and Independents and others on 25%, up two.

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