Nominations for general election candidates close
Nominations for the election closed at noon today, with a large increase in the number of Independents contesting seats across the State.
Fianna Fáil is fielding only 75 candidates in the 43 constituencies. Even if all 75 are returned as TDs, it would not be enough to win an overall majority in the Dáil. The party ran 106 candidates in 2007.
Fine Gael has a team of 104, up from 91 last time. Labour is running 68, up from 50 last time. Sinn Féin is fielding 41 candidates, the same amount as last time, while the Greens have a team of 43, a fall of one. At least 230 Independents or members of smaller parties are running.
These figures are provisional. Candidates have until noon tomorrow to withdraw their nominations.
The public finances and cutting emigration were highlighted by political parties during campaigning today.
Fine Gael today outlined plans it says could keep thousands of younger people from emigrating. The party said it would put more than 20,000 people on one-year public, private and voluntary sector work placements and mandate the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to create a further 5,000 work experience places through its clients.
The party’s communications spokesman, Leo Varadkar, said some of the country’s best talent was leaving because of the lack of job opportunities and his party was eager to put this right. He said Fine Gael would introduce a training voucher scheme “so people on the dole can access training that meets their individual needs” and return to the workforce.
Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin unveiled the party’s tourism strategy in Ballina, Co Mayo. He said it will increase visitor numbers to eight million by 2015, creating up to 15,000 extra jobs in the sector. He said they would achieve the increase in visitor numbers through competitive airport and port charges, tourist-friendly immigration and visa arrangements, and co-operative marketing support programmes with air and sea carriers.
Mr Martin said he would extend the Section 481 film investment relief to 2016 to maintain the country’s attractiveness as a location for film production.
Labour unveiled proposals that would see primary schools devote up to 120 minutes extra per day to teaching literacy. The party's policy would also require school principals to produce specific literacy plans, and to provide regular feedback to parents on their child’s standard of literacy.
Education spokesman Ruairí Quinn said one in 10 primary school children - some 50,000 pupils - had serious literacy difficulties. That figure rises to one in three in disadvantaged areas.
Meanwhile, the Green Party has drawn back from two key commitments it made in agreeing the Government’s four-year plan. The party today set out its plans on how to manage the public finances until 2014. In its
document, the party proposed less severe cuts to social welfare and to non-pay public expenditure over the next four years.
However, it maintained it would not depart from the overall aims of the plan which has set out a €15 billion adjustment over four years.
Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh launched proposals for community safety and combating crime. He said the party wants an end to current recruitment, promotion and overtime embargoes in the Garda Siochana. It also would increase funding for Garda Drugs Units and tackle organised crime by ensuring that existing laws are used more effectively together with sufficient resources to ensure more robust and systematic investigations.
Sinn Féin also proposes that all monies confiscated by the Criminal Assets Bureau should be invested in the communities worst-affected by crime.
Last night, the first major TV debate of the campaign – between Micheál Martin and Eamon Gilmore – saw sharp exchanges on budgetary policy, the EU-IMF bailout and the introduction of the bank guarantee.
The Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny declined to take part in the TV3 debate, opting instead to address a “town hall style meeting” in Carrick-on-Shannon.
During last night's debate on TV3, Mr Martin repeatedly accused Mr Gilmore of “chopping and changing” his position over the past three months on the target date for the reduction in the budget deficit and on tax policy. “You keep changing in response to the focus groups,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Gilmore said it was the Fianna Fáil-led Government which had “chopped and changed” its policy and its targets over the past two years.
“We have taken decisions,” said Mr Martin. “You have taken the wrong decisions,” replied Mr Gilmore.
The two men also clashed on the EU-IMF bailout, with Mr Gilmore saying it would have to be renegotiated and Mr Martin insisting there could be no unilateral renegotiation.
On the issue of the bank guarantee, the Labour leader said it was the worst decision taken by an Irish government since independence. Mr Martin responded by accusing him of “bluffing and conning”, saying there would have been immediate and catastrophic results if the guarantee had not been introduced.
Both Mr Martin and Mr Gilmore expressed satisfaction with their performance during the debate.
The debate attracted more than 411,000 viewers, according the station. The spectacle was also one of the top three trending topics worldwide on Twitter.
Three more debates are planned during the election and Mr Kenny is expected to take part in them.