Election 2020: Fine Gael comes under fire over health, housing

Opposition leaders focus on FG’s record on health and housing as vote is called

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaves Government Buildings to travel to Áras an Uachtaráin to seek a dissolution of the 32nd Dáil on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaves Government Buildings to travel to Áras an Uachtaráin to seek a dissolution of the 32nd Dáil on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Declaring that now was the “best time for the country” to choose its next government, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ended months of speculation on Tuesday morning and called a general election for Saturday, February 8th.

Mr Varadkar appealed for an extension of Fine Gael’s mandate and promised to use the fruits of economic recovery for “health, housing, climate action and tax reform”. Opposition leaders immediately sought to draw the campaign battle lines on the issues of health and housing.

Mr Varadkar said his Government had achieved agreements on Brexit and in Northern Ireland and “modernised our society”, but acknowledged that many people were frustrated about housing and health services.

“Now I seek a fresh mandate so we can continue to build a better future,” he said at Government Buildings, before departing for Áras an Uachtaráin to seek a formal dissolution of the Dáil from President Michael D Higgins.

Opposition leaders immediately welcomed the announcement of an election, and declared their intention to focus on what they said was the Government’s record of failure to improve the health service and solve the housing crisis.

Reacting to the Fine Gael campaign slogan “A future to look forward to”, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: “I think there will be a certain sort of shiver going around the country when they contemplate the prospect of a Fine Gael future.”

“I think it reveals the essence of this Fine Gael party. Everything is a way into the future,” he said.

“But people in an emergency department today can’t wait for Fine Gael’s future. Fine Gael have made the future of many people in this country very difficult and uncertain, particularly in terms of high rents and in terms of the number of children homeless.

“I am not so sure that Fine Gael’s version of the future is something that the Irish people would necessarily look forward to,” Mr Martin added.

‘Desperate record’

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald attacked Fine Gael’s “desperate record” on housing, and also criticised Fianna Fáil’s role in facilitating the outgoing Government.

She said that Sinn Féin had learned lessons from the local elections and would fight a campaign “voter by voter . . . on the doorsteps”.

She said that voters would see “a very clear policy platform for people, for workers, for families, for those people who, as I say, hear the rhetoric of economic recovery but aren’t experiencing it in their lives”.

Marking the opening of the Labour Party campaign, leader Brendan Howlin said: “We need to stop wasting public money. We need to build houses and we need to fix health.”

He sought to cast his party as one that can be trusted with public spending and the economy and repeated his call for a transfer pact on the centre left, calling on Labour voters to give transfers to the Greens, Social Democrats and “progressive Independents”.

His party will enter government, he said, if it can get a “critical mass” of TDs elected.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the next government needed to think about “substantive ways” to change the transport system, energy system, food system and industrial system.

After a frantic start on Tuesday, campaign events begin in earnest on Wednesday morning. Fine Gael will officially launch its campaign for re-election in a factory in Monaghan at an event intended to focus on Brexit and economic recovery. Fianna Fáil will hold its first press conference of the campaign in Dublin at noon, while other parties will also kick off their campaigns.

Following the formal dissolution of the Dáil, Minister for Housing and Local Government Eoghan Murphy signed an order appointing February 8th as polling day. Nominations close at noon on this day week, January 22nd. The new Dáil will meet on Thursday, February 20th.