Parties in final push for support before polling day

 

Enda Kenny said today he will direct his ministers to focus entirely on their new portfolios and to “completely avoid” constituency work in the first 100 days of assuming office if Fine Gael is elected to government.

In the last round of formal press briefings before Friday’s vote, the main parties made their final appeals to voters today.

The Fine Gael leader said the party, if elected, would hit the ground running by implementing a comprehensive strategy to restore Ireland’s international reputation.

“Once this plan is completed, every Irish ambassador, along with the main representatives of Ireland and the Irish Development Agency, will be recalled to Ireland. They will receive a full briefing on how Ireland will once again market itself as the best place in the world to do business,” Mr Kenny said.

He also signalled he intended to use his post as vice president of the European People’s Party to persuade Ireland’s European partners that the IMF-EU deal was a bad deal for Ireland and for the EU.

However, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin today warned the country could not walk away from the IMF-EU bailout loan.

In interview on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Martin made a final push for support, arguing that a vote for his party was "a vote for policies" and insisting Fianna Fáil would be a "vital force" in the next Dáil.

In the final press conference of the campaign this morning, he insisted the party will be fighting for every vote until polling day. Mr Martin renewed his criticism of Fine Gael’s ‘five-point plan’ and said the final televised debate between party leaders had exposed serious flaws in it. “The five-point plan is full of black holes, ill-thought out ideas and poll-tested policies that are designed to win votes and not solve the serious problems we face today,” he said.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore today also made an end-of-campaign appeal for people to vote for his party if they want to avoid a single-party Fine Gael government.

Mr Gilmore said the election was about how people saw the future of the country and how Ireland was going to get out of the mess it was in. The choice involved for voters was one between a single-party Fine Gael Government or a coalition between Labour and Fine Gael.

The only way for people who didn't want single-party government to avoid this outcome was to vote Labour, Mr Gilmore said. He was speaking at the party's final press conference of the campaign in its headquarters in Dublin.

The Greens were canvassing in central Dublin while Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness joined Sinn Féin colleagues on the campaign trail in Wicklow and Dublin.

United Left Alliance TDs will campaign in the Dáil against stealth taxes including water charges and property taxes if they were elected, Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins said. He said "mainstream media commentators" were predicting that the alliance could win at least six seats in the next Dáil and that would mean "the possibility of a very significant new development in Irish politics".

All the parties are on their last full day of canvassing before the traditional broadcasting blackout on election coverage begins tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny came through last night’s televised debate without any major slip but he was put under serious pressure by Mr Martin, particularly on the issue of taxation.

Mr Gilmore performed consistently throughout the debate and presented a more positive image of his party’s policies than he managed so far in the election campaign. Mr Martin was much more aggressive than the other leaders, reflecting the desperate battle his party is now facing for survival. He frequently interrupted the other two, particularly Mr Kenny, as the debate wore on.

As the front runner going into last night’s RTÉ Prime Time debate, Mr Kenny had the most to lose. He started well but as the debate got into its stride he was pressured constantly by Mr Martin.

Mr Kenny pointed to the Fianna Fáil leader’s record during 14 years in Government, particularly during his period as Minister for Health. He said the Government had talked about “turning the corner” and “green shoots” but Ireland had a debt level which was “an obscenity” and he accused Mr Martin of being “full of wind and spoof”.

During one testy exchange, Mr Martin said to Mr Kenny: “I know what you’re going to say again. ‘Fourteen years, I’ve a five-point plan, let’s get Ireland working.’ We need a bit more than that now Enda in terms of the future of this country.”

When questioned about the detail of the party’s policy Mr Kenny responded by referring to the Fine Gael website. 

Speaking after the debate, Mr Martin said he had achieved his objective of “exposing the absence of detail” in Fine Gael's five-point plan.

Mr Gilmore said he was happy he got the chance to “kill off” the “black propaganda” in relation to his party’s stance on taxation and the public finances.

Mr Kenny noted the Labour Party newspaper advertisements critical of Fine Gael had stopped. “They now understand the relevance of the five-point plan.”

The debate began with an opening statement from the three men and then went on to debate a wide range of issues including the EU-IMF bailout, the public finances, job creation and health.