Fine Gael has stepped up its attacks on the Labour Party, with Michael Noonan claiming its plans would cost each family in the State an extra €1,300 a year in taxes and charges.

He acknowledged that Fine Gael's plans would result in each family in the country paying €1,785 extra in taxes and charges by 2014 - but he claimed Labour's plans would add an extra €1,361 per family on top of that.

Earlier, Eamon Gilmore had said people were going to be badly hit by austerity measures that Fine Gael would introduce.

Fine Gael began the morning by outlining a range of measures to help families who have difficulties keeping up with their mortgages.

The party says it will introduce legislation to stop mortgage lenders imposing penalties where mortgage rates have been rescheduled.

It is also promising to avoid repossession by requiring banks to defer mortgage repayment in certain cases.

But Fine Gael also took the opportunity to again criticise Labour's new ad campaign.

The newspaper adverts - with the phrase 'every little hurts' - prompted claims from Fine Gael that Labour was panicking about the surge in popularity for Fine Gael, based on recent polls.

Speaking on Radio Kerry this morning, Enda Kenny described the adverts as 'absolute rubbish'.

'It is beneath the Labour party to be carrying on the way they are.'

In response, Labour Eamon Gilmore accused Fine Gael of becoming the 'stealth tax' party of the election. He attacked Fine Gael's economic proposals, saying they would hit families badly.

'Fine Gael is proposing similar cuts that the Conservative Party introduced in Britain, which led them into a recession.'

Mr Gilmore also said that in Government Labour would hold off injecting a further €10bn into the banks to allow the renegotiation of the EU-IMF deal.

On the issue of union support, Mr Gilmore said it was not a hindrance that the unions were behind his party and said the support that his party was getting was 'across the board'.

Election focus on education and mortgages

At Fianna Fáil headquarters in Dublin, Micheál Martin said education remained his party's single most important priority.

He made the comments while launching the party's education policy this morning.

Fianna Fáil says it is committed to investment in new primary schools, resulting in additional 35,000 permanent places by 2016

Mr Martin insisted there would be no reduction in special needs assistants over the period of its plan and they would be capped at 2011 levels.

Labour also launched its education plan this morning, promising that in Government it would reverse the charge on students attending post-Leaving Certificate courses.

Speaking at the launch, Ruairí Quinn said Labour would allocate €27m to keep the third level student charge at €1,500 per year.

Reform proposals from Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin launched its political reform proposals this afternoon.

'The political system has failed the people. It is unaccountable and protects those who have abused public office,' said Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Sinn Féin has proposed automatic registration for voters and wants to reduce the voting age to 16.

The party has also called for the size of constituencies to be increased to 5-7 seaters.

Sinn Féin says it would also look at the issue of reducing the number of TDs and cutting ministerial salaries by 20%. It wants ministerial salaries cut by 40%.

Mr Adams also warned that a single party Fine Gael would be worse than the previous coalition.

'If people thought the Fianna Fáil / Green Government was bad - they ain't seen nothing yet.'

While in Co Carlow, Green Party leader John Gormley called on Labour to come clean on the level of social welfare cuts it would make in Government.

'The Labour Party continues to deceive the Irish public with its cavalier approach to correcting the public finances,' he said.