Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has signalled a significant reorientation for his party by committing to widen social welfare, introduce statutory sick pay, move to a living wage, and give all employees access to an occupational pension.
In his leader’s address to the Fine Gael Árd Fheis, Mr Varadkar has said “the pandemic has caused us all to re-evaluate what matters the most”.
“Fine Gael will take the lead on this through the introduction of statutory sick pay, the move to a living wage and access to an occupational pension for all employees to supplement their state pension.
“Reforming our social welfare system to provide a better safety net for people who lose their jobs or take time out to care for others.”
In a keynote speech delivered online because of public health restrictions, the Tánaiste told party members: “I believe a legacy of the pandemic must be better pay, terms and conditions for all workers, public and private sector.”
In another substantial commitment, Mr Varadkar also pledges the Ireland will return to 70 per cent home ownership by the end of the decade.
“This will require getting up to 40,000 new homes built every year, double where we are now,” he said.
He said it would be achieved through public and private investment.
The Tánaiste said that the party should create a society where everyone had the opportunity to get a good education, a job, promotion, home ownership, a family, and to be looked after when sick or growing old.
“When it comes to the workplace, I don’t believe we should return to the old normal. We need a new normal in which people are facilitated to work from home or from a hub near to where they live. It’s a choice.
On housing, he distanced his party from the policies of Opposition parties such as Sinn Féin.
“This means voting for new housing not against it, it means stronger protections for renters, encouraging investment not chasing it away and helping first-time buyers to get a deposit and a mortgage. That is what Fine Gael does. Others talk. We build,” he said.
On climate change Mr Varadkar new climate change legislation currently going through the Oireachtas would ensure Ireland moves from “being a laggard to a leader.”
However, he also told the Árd Fheis that any just society had to be built in a competitive economy.
“Fine Gael is the party you can trust to keep the economy strong, to create jobs and to manage the public finances.”
He did commit that the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic would continue to be cared for. In saying that, he said the party would continue to seek out foreign direct investment and strongly “stand by our sovereign right to set our own tax rates”.
He said the Government has set the ambition of having 2.5 million at work in Ireland by 2024, something that would represent a new record.
In the concluding lines of the speech, Mr Varadkar said Ireland will never go back to the old way of doing things after the pandemic.
“We showed the world what we could achieve in the worst of circumstances.
“We showed each other what we can be at our best. We proved that politics can be about achieving what was once thought impossible. In the years ahead, this must be our guiding light and our inspiration, as we build a better future for all,” he said.