Senior Fine Gael Ministers outlined some of their key election pledges at a meeting in Dublin on Tuesday night.
Speaking at the final meeting of the current parliamentary party, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar told colleagues that Fine Gael, if returned to power after the general election, would introduce strict new waiting time targets. Hospitals would be required to improve on their waiting times by five per cent each year.
He said the Government would move towards a similar system to that of the UK where trolley counts are not relied upon to examine waiting times. He also pledged to introduce a new package for elderly patients and to restore dental benefits for PRSI payers.
In addition Mr Varadkar urged party members to stay on message during the campaign and to remind people of Fine Gael’s strategy to keep the recovery going.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton committed to creating 200,000 new jobs by 2020.
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said Fine Gael’s justice manifesto would focus on three areas: more gardaí; tougher sentences; and more efficiency in the courts. She said a new family court system would be introduced, allowing for dedicated judges to deal with family law cases.
In a rallying speech to his deputies and senators on the night before he plans to call the election, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told them that evidence was accumulating by the day that the policies pursued by the Coalition were bearing fruit.
Mr Kenny pointed to the latest exchequer returns which show tax returns for January are up significantly while the latest unemployment figures continue to move downwards.
The Taoiseach is expected to announce the date of the long-awaited general election in the Dáil on Wednesday.
While he refused to confirm it on Tuesday, the expectation among his TDs is that he will name Friday, February 26th, as polling day. That will mean a short 21-day campaign.
After Mr Kenny makes his announcement in the Dáil, the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Joan Burton will hold a press conference at Government Buildings. The Taoiseach will then travel to Áras an Uachtaráin to ask President Michael D Higgins to dissolve the 31st Dáil.
Speaking on Mid-West radio on Tuesday, Mr Kenny expressed the hope that people will reflect very carefully on the critical decision they have to make on election day.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath called again on Mr Noonan to clarify his plans for the extra €12 billion in resources, the total “fiscal space”, he says is available to the next government.
Mr Noonan has already said he will allocate 30 per cent of it towards tax cuts and 70 per cent towards spending, and has also said he will keep 25 per cent for a reserve fund.
Mr McGrath claimed Mr Noonan’s own figures showed this is impossible.