Election campaign begins after 30th Dáil is dissolved


Political parties have commenced their general election campaigns following the dissolution of the Dáil this afternoon.

In his last contribution to the Dáil, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said it had been a privilege to serve the people of Ireland in government and called for a respectful debate on the country’s future in the general election.

Before he travelled to Áras an Uachtaráin to ask President Mary McAleese to dissolve the parliament, Mr Cowen said in every decision he took as Taoiseach the common good was his overriding concern.

In a short statement this afternoon the President confirmed she had dissolved the 30th Dáil and that the incoming Dáil would sit on Wednesday, March 9th. She said February 25th would be designated as polling day.

This evening the political parties launched their campaigns, with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny saying his was the only party that has pledged not to raise income tax.

He said the country was “far from banjaxed” and that it was time for "courageous and strong” government. In a parting shot at the outgoing coalition, Mr Kenny said it was “not a time for government that might self-combust or be dependent on the whim of Independents”.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said his party was on course to win 50 seats in the election and to be the biggest party in the next Dáil session. He also denied that changes in policy positions by the party over the past week had been influenced by fears that it was been “outflanked” by smaller left-wing parties, including Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin, canvassing in Tallaght, said his party intended to publish detailed proposals for reforms in the political system during the course of the election campaign.

“We will be proposing a radical change in terms of how our electoral, parliamentary and governmental systems work,” he told reporters after a tour of Fettercairn Community Centre.

Green Party leader John Gormley said the party would demand commitments on a number of “red-line issues” before it supported a government or entered a new administration.

He said political reform was a “huge issue” for the party but declined to specify at this stage what other non-negotiable issues the Greens would insist on.

Earlier, Mr Cowen said it had been a privilege to serve the people of Ireland in government. He said he had no time for the cynics who "talk down or belittle people in public life".

The Taoiseach, who remains in charge of the country until a new Government is formed, said the coming election would define Ireland's economic future and decide whether we succumbed to the recession or moved forward from it. He urged people to cast their vote accordingly."

Mr Cowen called for a mature, responsible debate "where we all show respect for each other and for the democratic process".

Mr Kenny wished Mr Cowen and his family well on his retirement from the House. He said that despite strongly disagreeing with many of the policies pursued by Mr Cowen and his government, he had no doubt about his integrity as a person or a politician. But he said the government had been one of the worst in living memory.

Mr Gilmore said every voter now had the opportunity to decide the future of the country. "Ireland is a great country and we have a great future," he said.

He said that for the first time in the 90-year history of this State, people had a choice to elect a government that was led by neither Fianna Fail nor Fine Gael. Instead, they had a choice to elect a government led by Labour.

Mr Gormley also wished Mr Cowen well for the future. He said he was proud of his party's achievements in government with Fianna Fáil. He was proud of civil partnership legislation and the reform of financial regulation. "These measures can and do make a difference."

Sinn Féin leader in the House, Caomhghín Ó Caoláin also wished Mr Cowen and his family well but added his own criticisms of the performance of the outgoing Government.

Mr Cowen announced the end of his 27-year political career last night, confirming that he was stepping down as a TD. He was first elected in 1984, in a byelection following the death of his father, Bernard Cowen.