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Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has compared Fine Gael to the British Conservative Party

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has compared Fine Gael to the British Conservative Party

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has compared Fine Gael to the British Conservative Party

The rift between Fine Gael and Labour has deepened with tit-for-tat attacks on each other's economic plans for the country.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore compared his potential coalition partners to British Tories in an attempt to put clear blue water between the two parties. Depicting Fine Gael as the "stealth tax party", he said leader Enda Kenny's plans to slash child benefits would badly hit families who were already struggling to survive.

"Fine Gael are proposing to cut child benefit by 252 euro (for families with two children)," he said. "Child benefit has already been cut, many families are already stretched with reduction in incomes.

"What Fine Gael is offering is largely the same type of measures the Conservative Party proposed in Britain which has now resulted in Britain going back into recession again."

The Fine Gael leader admitted his party would reduce spending on child benefit but dismissed the figures being quoted in the adverts as "complete rubbish".

"What we will do is have a universal payment which will apply to everybody," he said. "In other words, whether they are rich or not, they are going to get some element of child benefit but then you make a cut for those who are on higher incomes."

Fine Gael's finance spokesman Michael Noonan weighed into the row, claiming Labour's economic policies would cost every family an extra 1,300 euro a year in taxes and charges.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin claimed he would protect special needs education and create more jobs in schools. Unveiling his party's education proposals, Mr Martin said they made up the central plank of their manifesto.

Sinn Fein vowed to cut the voting age to 16, replace the Seanad with a directly elected upper house and reduce the number of TDs, with a third of the Dail drawn from a list system.

The Green Party said it would shelter society's most vulnerable from draconian Budget cuts. John Gormley, party leader, said if returned to power they would not reduce basic social welfare rates or the state pension and would extend childcare schemes.

PA