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Howlin says Labour party is open to working with Sinn Féin

Labour leader, Brendan Howlin, behind the podium at the launch of his party's general election manifesto with colleagues, including former Tánaiste Joan Burton, second from left, at Iveagh Garden Hotel in Dublin Picture by Cate McCurry/PA

LABOUR leader Brendan Howlin has paved the way to working with Sinn Féin after saying he would be happy to sit with the party.

Mr Howlin said that while there are "significant barriers" to working with Sinn Féin, he would not rule out talking to anyone.

Speaking at the launch of Labour's election manifesto at Dublin's Iveagh Garden Hotel, Mr Howlin said: "I have said that I'm hopeful for a progressive alliance and I named-checked the parties and individuals that I believe could make up that.

"I haven't name-checked Sinn Féin in that because their tax plans are not progressive right now and that is a simple fact.

"I was asked would I sit down with them and as the son of a trade union official and as a trade unionist all my life, there's nobody I wouldn't talk to.

"But in truth there are very significant barriers with having any dealing with Sinn Féin.

"I do say from the Labour party's perspective, there are fundamental issues of trust in Sinn Féin and that is an issue for Sinn Féin to address, not for us."

Labour outlined their pledges in their 37-page Building An Equal Society manifesto.

They have pledged to freeze and cap rents for three years, and invest €16 billion to build 80,000 social and affordable homes over the next five years.

They also revealed plans to invest €5bn in the health service, and €1bn every year to "end the recruitment embargo".

The party said they will also raise the minimum wage to a living wage and freeze the state pension at 66, and invest an extra €200 million every year to make primary education free of charge.

As part of its action on climate change, Labour said it will target 100,000 homes every year for insulation and retrofitting.

The party said they would build 80,000 social and affordable homes over five years on public land.

Mr Howlin said: "People are scandalised by our housing and homelessness crisis and people are distraught with the dysfunctionality in parts of our health service where people are waiting endlessly for treatment."

He said a million people were awaiting health care but focused his comments on housing.

"At the heart of the housing crisis is a lack of houses. It is not rocket science and traditionally we have built houses," he said.

He said his party had supported social and affordable housing as long as he could remember.

Mr Howlin admitted it will be a challenge to find people to build the social housing, adding: "We need to have more apprenticeships, train more people to build the homes we need.

"Just as we had concerted effort to address our economic crisis, if we have concerted effort and the political will and the determination to be done by the state, not by the private sector, we can solve the supply side of housing.

"Until that is done we have to stop people becoming homeless and the single biggest cause of homelessness is rising rents, and that's why we said very clearly that we would freeze rent until we got the supply side in balance.

"People said that's not constitutional and not legal, we actually did that in 2014."

Mr Howlin said that Slaintecare is the blueprint to solving the "perennial difficulties" in healthcare.

"Slaintecare requires investment of a significant amount of money," he said.

Turning to tax cuts, Mr Howlin said: "We're making no grandiose promises, particularly in the area of taxation, and quite frankly it's a con job to pretend that you can muster the resources from the €11bn available over the next five years.

"And that you can do all, solve all the pressing problems in health and housing and homelessness, and at the same time give people tax breaks.

"Who would benefit from that in terms of moving the top rate of tax?

"It would be the top 20 per cent of taxpayers – 80 per cent would not benefit from that."

Labour also said it will extend free GP care to all under-18s and, countered suggestions it would add to longer waiting lists.

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