Kenny warns against complacency


Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny today said he was pleased with the party’s showing in opinion polls but insisted he would not allow his canvassers or candidates to become complacent.

A Paddy Power/Red C poll released this morning showed support for Fine Gael at 40 per cent, a level Mr Kenny said he could not recall the party reaching previously. He said there was encouragement around the country which he believed was “based on the fact that of all the parties in this particular campaign Fine Gael has set out our own plan”.

Mr Kenny said the trends of opinion polls were important but "the real poll is on Friday, as they say in politics". However, Mr Kenny said that neither he nor Fine Gael should be overly confident about the outcome of Friday’s vote.

“I’ve been around this circuit before and my message to our canvassers and candidates is that I don’t want any sense of complacency here,” he said. “I expect people to work, as I will, until 10pm on Friday night when people have made their decision.”

He believed people were looking for a “sense of security” and that Fine Gael had costed a “credible way forward”.

When it was put to him that the relationship between himself and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had seemed “cosy” during last night’s leaders’ debate, Mr Kenny said he had not set out to be cosy.

He had not spoken to Mr Gilmore since the last debate in Connemara. At that time, he had mentioned a series of advertisements the Labour Party was running against Fine Gael.

During a questions and answers session on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Pat Kenny, the Fine Gael leader said that, if in government, his party would stimulate the economy and get people back working.

When questioned if the party would cut the rate of jobseekers benefit, Mr Kenny said it had “no intention of cutting back” on the payments.

Mr Kenny said his party wanted to see people get off welfare and into jobs, and his programme focused specifically on jobs. “Work is the best antidote,” he said. The government would offer retraining and opportunities for people to get into work experience and to better themselves with education, he said.

If people who were able to work continued to refuse to take up training or job opportunities, at the end of four years, their job benefit would be reduced by by up to €10 per week.

“Everybody who is able to work is going to be able to make a contribution of some sort or other,” he said.

Mr Kenny said there was “no intention” to cut back on pensions or allowances for blind people, or those with disabilities or carers allowance “such as the Government did in recent budgets”.

Regarding the Irish language, Mr Kenny said Fine Gael would examine the curriculum and how it was thought before deciding if the subject should remain a compulsory part of primary and secondary education.

He said he loved the language and wanted to strengthen rather than weaken its position but said the fact that people could study it for up to 14 years and not put five sentences together.

“We have had 60 years of defence behind compulsion and Irish people have always rejected compulsion,” Mr Kenny said. “It’s time for us to grow up in these matters. My belief is that if we teach it properly and have a relevant curriculum people love the language and take it right through to Leaving Cert and it becomes more important for everybody.”

Questioned about the future of the Ward Union Stag Hunt, Mr Kenny said he supported animal welfare but not issues “being pursued by animal rights”.

He said the Ward Union Hunt preserves one of the last indigenous Irish Red Deer herds in the country. “I’m not one for having wholesale slaughter around the country,” Mr Kenny said. “My understanding here is that this hunt does not set out to kill the stag.”

He said Fine Gael would set out serious conditions for the hunt such as the presence of “veterinary inspectors and all the rest of it”. Restoring the hunt would be part of a campaign for the “preservation of what has been there in rural Ireland”.

Another listener asked the Fine Gael position on employment regulation orders and joint labour agreements affecting hotel workers. She said about 300,000 people were affected by these agreements and they were concerned their pay would be cut further if the agreements were abolished under a new government.

Mr Kenny said his party had a specific programme affecting the hotel sector and that employer PRSI for lower-paid workers would also be reduced by 50 per cent. In addition, VAT in the sector would be cut from 13.5 per cent to 12 per cent.

Fine Gael would also abolish the travel tax.

An ESB employee based at Moneypoint, expressed concern about Ireland’s energy security.

Mr Kenny said there would be no “fire sale” of strategic State assets after the election if the party was in government.

It would put €7 billion from the pension reserve fund and from the sale of non-strategic assets into an investment programme for water and renewable energy sources, he said.