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Sinn Féin puts unity and homelessness at top of election pledges

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the launch of the party's general election manifesto in Dublin PICTURE: Niall Carson/PA
Cate McCurry

SINN FÉIN has pledged to secure a border poll within the next five years while also establishing a joint Oireachtas committee on Irish unity.

The party unveiled its manifesto, which includes publishing a white paper on Irish unity as well as setting a date to end "long-term" homelessness.

Among its pledges, Sinn Féin said it plans to abolish the Universal Social Charge on the first €30,000 earned and to abolish the property tax.

The party said it will reduce rents by up to €1,500 a year via a refundable tax credit and freeze rent for three years.

The party said it will also build 100,000 homes over the next five years.

This, it added, will include council housing and affordable homes for renters and first-time buyers at a cost of €6.5 billion.

" We will take on the housing crisis and we will solve it," the manifesto read.

Sinn Féin has also pledged to give the Central Bank powers to cap mortgage interest rates.

The party also said it will reduce the cost of childcare by €500 per month and end third-level fees.

It also wants to lower the voting age to 16 and introduce gender quotas for ministers and increase the gender quota of Dáil elections to 50 per cent.

Sinn Féin said it also wants an hourly Belfast to Dublin train service.

Speaking at the launch at the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios in Dublin, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said people are looking for something new from government, including affordable homes, being able to see doctors and access to a decent education.

"This is a manifesto for giving workers and families a break, this is a manifesto for change," she said.

Ms McDonald said that the conversation around Irish unity is happening among nationalists and unionists.

She said there is no sense in anyone "burying their heads".

"This needs to be a respectful conversation and it's the job of the government in Dublin to shape that conversation," she said.

"If we look to Britain, and lots of us have reflected on the disorder and the chaos which has arisen because of a lack of planning and a fully informed debate on the issue of Brexit, we shouldn't sleepwalk into a similar scenario.

"Brexit has accelerated this conversation. It's reckless not to plan.

"It is game on for unification and I think the thoughtful thing, the wise thing to do, is to plan from now."

She said it was not a uniquely Sinn Féin issue.

"The future of the island, the constitutional, political and economic arrangements and welfare on the island, is everybody's business," she said.

"Any thoughtful party seeking to be in government, to occupy high office, should recognise that as an objective reality."

She said a five-year timeline is reasonable to get the "spade work done".

She added that the call for a referendum by the British government will only be done when the Irish government is proactively planning for Irish unification.

"We're not the only people asking those questions – those questions are being asked by individuals and organisations, beyond ourselves.

"This isn't a matter of this being a uniquely Sinn Féin issue, this isn't simply a Sinn Féin concern."

Ms McDonald added that Sinn Féin was ready to be in government.

"People are saying the others have had their chance and now Sinn Féin should have the chance and then of course be judged on the delivery."

She said the days of majoritarian government were over and that needed to be reflected in more inclusive leaders' debates.

The party's priorities include reducing the term of the office of the president from seven years to five years and making the office subject to Freedom of Information requests.

Turning to homelessness, the party's spokesman on housing Eoin Ó Broin said the party would agree a date to ending long-term homelessness in conjunction with local authorities and the homeless sector.

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