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Fine Gael prioritise taxes, Brexit and housing at manifesto launch

A screen displayed four promises under the heading The Best Team For Brexit.

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Leo Varadkar during the Fine Gael manifesto launch (Donall Farmer/PA)

Leo Varadkar during the Fine Gael manifesto launch (Donall Farmer/PA)

Leo Varadkar during the Fine Gael manifesto launch (Donall Farmer/PA)

Fine Gael have put tax breaks, Brexit and housing at the forefront of their manifesto launch.

Leo Varadkar, flanked by ministers Simon Coveney, Heather Humphreys, Regina Doherty, Simon Harris and Paschal Donohoe, launched A Future To Look Forward To at the party’s media centre in Dublin’s upmarket South William Street,

With a European Flag as a backdrop, a screen displayed four promises under the heading The Best Team For Brexit.

The promises include fairer taxes, backing first-time buyers, reforming the health service and a better deal for families and older people.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar emphasised that he was aware of the concerns of the “squeezed middle”.

“We do have a squeezed middle, people on good salaries and wages on paper, but by the time they pay their bills there isn’t much left at the end of the week,” he said in his opening remarks.

“I said I would prioritise for the squeezed middle, and I meet people regularly who say they’re disappointed that we haven’t done more, that they don’t have more money in their pockets.”

Mr Varadkar says his party will remedy the issue by increasing the point at which an individual pays the top rate of tax, from 35,300 euro to 50,000 euro, and raising the USC exemption threshold from 13,000 euro to 20,500 euro.

The total costing for the party’s tax cut is 600m euro.

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Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney during the Fine Gael manifesto launch (Donall Farmer/PA)

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney during the Fine Gael manifesto launch (Donall Farmer/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney during the Fine Gael manifesto launch (Donall Farmer/PA)

Borrowing a phrase from Britain’s Labour Party slogan, Mr Varadkar said: “This is a policy for the many, not the few.”

The party has also leaned heavily on the issue of Brexit, reminding the media that it was a Fine Gael team that guided Ireland through a number of make- or-break negotiations regarding the border and trade.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney launched a stinging criticism of the main opposition leader Micheal Martin on the issue.

“I know Micheal Martin better than most, he is not the person I want leading Ireland in the second half of the Brexit challenge,” he said.

“Fine Gael has prevented a hard border, but a trade cliff is possibly 11 months away and I don’t believe Boris Johnson is bluffing and neither do the EU.”

Not to be seen shying away from the ongoing row over the pension age, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty laid out the party’s new plans.

They would see a “transition period” for those turning 65, after outrage when it was disclosed that some pensioners could be forced to sign on to Jobseeker’s Allowance after leaving their job, but before they turned 67.

The party has committed to a new state transition payment of 248 euros a week and a new state pathway pension for people who have to retire at 65, as well as a Golden Years Guarantee which increases the state pension by 25 euro a week over the next five years.

There was laughter during the Q&A section, after a number of ministers, who were not seated at the panel, appeared unexpectedly from the audience to answer questions from media, including Environment Minister Richard Bruton on climate and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, in a bid to defend their departments.

The event ended with smiles and greetings between candidates and their party colleagues as they prepare for another two weeks of campaigning.

PA