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Fianna Fáil sharpens sales pitch with eye on elections

This was a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis aiming to nail down what some of its critics often claim are particularly fluid core values.

The Minister for Fiance was in no doubt though about what these anchoring policies are when he addressed delegates.

Michael McGrath painted a picture of a party committed to social supports, investment in education and pro-enterprise policies.

He evoked the story of his own early years when his father became ill and could not work for the last ten years of his life.

It was the invalidity pension that sustained the family through this period, and it left the now Finance Minister with a belief that the State can provide both a safety net and create the conditions for a future rich in opportunity.

The story is an engaging modern articulation of the Fianna Fáil creed.

But will the upcoming series of elections be fought on these themes?

Perhaps it will, but it is housing and all that stems from it which could play the decisive part in the local and European elections, along with the next general election.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, in his customary assured way, told those gathered in the main hall that the tide was turning on housing.

Almost 300,000 people woke up this morning in homes that did not exist before Fianna Fáil entered government, he said.

That is indeed one side of the story, the other is that more people are now homeless than when Fianna Fáil returned to power in 2020.

While more and more social and affordable homes are being built the numbers are still shy of the targets set out in the Housing for All plan.

The party’s hope is that the increased number of first-time buyers and the upward number of homes under construction can convince tens of thousands of people that a home is now within their grasp.

It is a political sales pitch that one former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil Leader would relish bringing to the doorsteps of voters.

In fact Bertie Ahern, who arrived at the Ard Fheis amid a flurry of excitement, believes that a Dáil election should be held during the long, warm days of June this year.

But in all likelihood the next general election campaign will not commence until after Budget 2025 has been agreed and passed.

It will be a key reference point for Fianna Fáil when it compiles its election manifesto.

That means the scale of the tax package in that budget becomes one of the key calculations for the finance minister.

He has already indicated that it will be “substantial”.

Cuts to the USC, increased tax credits and a raising of the point at which people pay the higher rate of tax, all seem certain to be included.

Given that €6 billion is being set aside for future investment in infrastructure and climate related projects, there is political cover against any charges of being imprudent in what will be a pre-election budget.

In his speech, party leader Micheál Martin identified the need to ensure that any changes to personal taxation must benefit those on low and middle incomes most.

Measures such as the expansion of the renters’ credit and the extension of the free schoolbook as far as Leaving Cert classes are also on the cards.

These will all form part of the Fianna Fáil offering to voters as it faces multiple electoral tests in the months ahead.

However, despite the relatively buoyant mood at the 82nd Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, no one there was quite certain how this message will be received by voters.

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