Economic issues have returned to the fore in the General Election campaign.

Minister for Finance Brian Cowen has described the alternative Coalition's economic proposals as a 'con-job', while Fine Gael has accused Fianna Fáil of peddling the 'politics of fear'.

In its strongest attack yet on the economic policies of the alternative coalition, Fianna Fáil has accused the parties of putting forward a plan that cannot be delivered.

Brian Cowen claimed Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte were foisting a 'con job' on the Irish people.

In a battling performance at the Fianna Fáil news conference, Mr Cowen said Fine Gael had made promises worth nearly €2bn, and Labour €1.7bn, to be redeemed from a fund of less than €900m.

He said their policies would lead to budget deficits, debt and an erosion in national competitiveness.

The Finance Minister attributed the rise in the Opposition's poll ratings to what he said was 'a lack of scrutiny of their policies'.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Pat Rabbitte have rejected the criticism.

Earlier Fine Gael accused Mr Cowen's party of having nothing to offer except 'the politics of fear'.

Fine Gael Laois Offally candidate Olwyn Enright said Fianna Fáil had been engaging in negative campaigning because it did not want to focus on its own broken promises.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has taken out a newspaper advert warning anyone tendering to build private hospitals under Health Minister Mary Harney's co-location plans that it will stop the projects if in Government after the election.

The party has warned that all progress on such projects will be terminated immediately, unless contractual obligations have been entered into.

The party's health spokesperson, Liz McManus, said co-location would not solve the problems in the health service.

Elsewhere, the Progressive Democrats have launched their policy on rural life from a farm in Portlaoise, Co Laois.

Party leader Michael McDowell, along with PD Party President Tom Parlon, announced details of their policies on rural life and the agri-economy.

The Green Party is promoting its health policies today.The Greens challenged the other parties to explain how their health proposals would be paid for.

Green party leader Trevor Sargent claimed that promises to improve health services as well as cutting taxes 'do not add up'.

 and Sinn Féin is due to talk about its plan to tackle drug abuse.

Click here to visit our Election 2007 site.