Enda’s Speech

Below is Enda’s Speech that he has given in response to Budget 2009. I must say I agree with it whole heartedly!

Yesterday’s budget was disgraceful in what it contained. It was deplorable in what it did not contain. And it was fascinating in the response it created. Never in my political life have I seen such a universal rejection of a budget. One by one the statements came out.

IBEC condemned the budget. ISME condemned the budget. The ICTU condemned the budget. Siptu, Aer Lingus, Ryanair, ASH, Hospital Consultants, The Irish Hotels Federation, Focus Ireland, Barnardos — every last one of them criticised your budget. Companies, unions and interest-groups who have never before agreed, found themselves unified in universal and total rejection of a budget.

I couldn’t believe that not one single agency, organisation, company or union had anything positive to say. Then one positive appeared. Just one enthusiastic response. One single, solitary organisation that welcomed the budget. It was the Construction Industry Federation.
It is good to see that you are at least consistent. In good times and bad you keep one thing constant; you may disappoint the nation, but you never disappoint the construction industry.

This government has been in power for more than ten long years. This government has claimed credit for every day that the sun shone. The sun stopped shining a long time ago, but the government was too lazy to get out of its deckchair. Too lazy. Too stale. Too arrogant. Too out of touch with the pressured lives of the mortgaged poor.

And yesterday — yesterday, the Minister for Finance, having already likened himself to the American President who dragged his nation out of a Depression, went even further in his hubris, in his presumption, in his out-of-touch impertinence. He called for patriotism.
Patriotism. Minister, Taoiseach, Tánaiste. Instead of spending the next few days spinning this disaster to media, you should try meeting some of the people you’ve impoverished and punished and try telling these exhausted, frazzled men and women about the ‘patriotic’ action they’re taking today in paying for your outrageous, reckless mistakes.

I can promise you you’ll get a two-word answer from them. It’s very easy for a Government that stopped listening to reality a long time ago to talk about patriotism in here. But march your high-flown words out there to the real world and you’ll quickly find your discounted brand of patriotism rejected. With heavy losses.

Because the people of this nation know how badly they have been served. They know the Taoiseach and the government he struggles to lead have achieved the unbelievable – they have produced disaster out of success. They have – for the first time in the history of the state – reversed progress and condemned hardworking committed people to a lower living standard than their parents and grandparents enjoyed. That’s some achievement, Taoiseach. That’s some achievement, Minister.

Taoiseach, you schmoozed your way through the last four budgets – dispensing gifts of government expenditure to all and sundry, without regard to cost or consequence.

Way back in May, when you were still claiming that the fundamentals of the economy were sound – what planet were you on? – way back then, I asked you what your economic rescue plan was. You said we weren’t facing Armageddon, when that clearly was what we were facing. You went on holidays. I kept asking. You came back and I kept asking. You eventually said that the plan would be revealed in the budget.

Yesterday’s budget revealed no plan. Yesterday’s budget fixed no fundamental problems
Yesterday’s budget ensured no future. Yesterday’s pick-and-mix punishment to a hardworking nation is best summed up by this morning’s headline, Taoiseach. This one.

ALL PAIN BUT NO GAIN.

This is a desperate budget, introduced by a desperate government. This is panic, not policy. This is denial, not direction. The government has tried to hide its miserable performance behind the international banking crisis. It won’t work, because it’s not true and the people know it’s not true. The international banking crisis has accelerated the decline in the Irish economy. But the decline was well underway long before the banks got into trouble.

Here are the facts, Taoiseach. Although I know you don’t like dealing in facts.

– 50,000 people joined the dole queues this year – the first year of your leadership. 100,000 more will join those dismal queues next year.
– Businesses the length and breadth of this country are fighting for survival – and, as the foreclosure figures this week proved – many of them are not succeeding.
– Couples whose dream was to own their own home are now paying more for a home worth hundreds of thousands less than they paid for it.

And what did you do for those couples? You slapped a 1% levy on every bit of their shrinking incomes. You raised VAT. You increased the price of petrol so that, last night, lines of cars were drawn up outside every garage as hard-pressed workers tried to fill the tanks of their cars before that extra cost came in. You raised their motor tax. You cut what they could reclaim on their medical expenses. You added a tenner to every airplane ticket they buy. You hiked hospital charges to make it more difficult for them to bring their sick child to A&E. You reduced their mortgage relief. You reduced the relief on money they’re trying to put into their pensions.

This is nothing less, A Cathaoirleach, than a declaration of war on the middle classes. That’s what it is. War on the middle classes.

But it’s more than war on the middle classes. It’s war on the future. Take education. As a former teacher, my view of education is that it’s about teaching our children not just to learn, but to think. Many parents are doing a lot of thinking today. Thinking about how they’re going to pay the new third-level registration fees for their children. Yes, the rich will be fine.

But the hardpressed middle classes, the even harder-pressed less well off, will find it harder and harder now to send their children to university. So much for the claims that Ireland’s future was as a knowledge economy. Like all Fianna Fail claims, it’s not worth the paper it was written on. It’s an election-winner, and then the people who entrusted their hopes and dreams and the future of their children to Fianna Fail find that they have to find more money, out of a diminished income, and that they’re being told to think of it as patriotism.

Patriotism has been described as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Never has that statement been more true. Yesterday, my colleague, Richard Bruton, described the Budget as hitting “any family and every family, any business and every business.”

Richard Bruton is right. Just as he was right, down through recent months and years, when he highlighted:

– the failure to manage soaring government expenditure;
– the failure to reform the public sector even see the need for reform,
– the danger of building spending programmes on the back of temporary tax windfalls from an overheating property market,
– the failure to take hard decisions.

Richard Bruton was not the only economic expert warning of disaster. Similar warnings came from the IMF; the OECD, the ESRI, the Central Bank. They all highlighted the fundamental structural instability of an economy built on the property market and little else. They all pointed to our over-dependence on the jobs and the one off taxes coming from construction.

The Taoiseach and his party (and his Coalition colleagues) wouldn’t listen. They were doing laps of honour for the departure of Bertie Ahern and the arrival of Brian Cowen, when their primary duty was to manage the finances and security of this country for the benefit of all.

They did the laps of honour really well. (Fianna Fail will cherish the recordings of Brian Cowen singing for years to come.) They did everything else really badly. Or not at all. The end result is that taxpayers are punch drunk from project failure, from appalling, preventable waste, and from public service underperformance.

And it is not as if – even now – this has been stopped. The recent C&AG Report highlighted ludicrous waste in the HSE and in the Department of Justice (where hundred of Garda cars purchased in 2006 were left idle through 2007). Time and time again, Fine Gael has pointed to the obscene waste of public money in projects such as PPARS, e-voting, the Terracotta Army of mini managers in the HSE.

The HSE of course has been the Holy of Holies for this government. The HSE was the organisation that would break the mould of the inefficient health board system. (Just as tax cuts would break the mould of the previous recession. Minister Harney has the unique distinction of having built her political career on a narrow set of ruthlessly-pursued objectives. And the unique distinction of sitting idly by while every one of those was disassembled by a Government in which she sits.)

The HSE was set up at an unspeakable cost in reports from management consultants. And that goes on to this very day. It was set up with a structure no management consultant would ever have recommended – a highly paid kitchen cabinet to insulate the CEO from painful realities.

From the outset, it failed and failed miserably. It failed on the front line, where patients – particularly women – died as a result of incompetence. Women given false hope and false all-clears. Women at the heart of loving families who will never get over the tragedy visited on them by a system supposed to serve them. Women who believed in Mary Harney’s promises and in Professor Drum’s claims. God love those women. God love those families.

They didn’t know the chaos, the over-populated chaos which had replaced the old health board system. They didn’t know the HSE had more PR people to the square inch than stitches in a wound. They didn’t know that the preservation of managers was the hidden mission of the health service under this government.

They’re not around, those women whose death was hastened by HSE failure; they’re not around to see this Government suddenly decide that they have a terra cotta army of irrelevant managers who must now be paid to go away. No real radical action to make the HSE perform. Just pay off some of the people who shouldn’t have been there for the last several years.

No parent ever carried their desperately sick child into the saying…. “quick… for God sake …someone.. get me a manager.” No son or daughter, watching their desperately ill eighty year old mother on a trolley for days, ever wanted one of the terra cotta army of managers this government left in place within the HSE.

They wanted care. Concern. Comfort. They didn’t get it. And now, they’re being told that some of the money that’s being taken out of their back pocket is going to pay off people who should never have been in the HSE in the first place.

At the same time, because of this Budget’s doubling of the hospital charge, more and more parents are, this winter, going to look at their feverish child wondering… is it just a rash… or is it strep…… or could it be the start of meningitis? Should we go to A&E? Can we afford to go to A&E?

But then, Professor Drumm says too many people go to A&E in the first place. This man, who has presided over serial disaster, has a lot in common with this government. He never listens.
He never takes the blame. He always protects the system against those it’s supposed to serve.

Perhaps because they share so much, this government has taken his figures and his views and disincentivised parents from getting the help their children need. A sorry day for a government.
A sorry day for families.

Because it says that this government is too busy mis-managing an economy to take account of the people that economy is supposed to support. The simple measure of the government’s abject performance is that we are provably in a far worse place than many of our European neighbours. No country has been immune to the Banking crisis – but when the international financial tsunami broke – we were already up to our necks in a flood of the government’s making. No other country has been so apathetic, so stale, so lazy in its response to the crisis.

In August, when it happened, the Spanish prime minister abandoned his holidays, instructed his ministers to do likewise, and went to work. (This was when Brian Cowen was failing to sink putts in the west of Ireland.) As a result, Spain is not in a recession. It’s weathering tough times. It’s weathering them with action, with innovation, with realism. But it’s not in a recession.

Ireland is in a dire recession, and yesterday’s Budget offered nothing in the way of light at the end of the tunnel. After the Budget, the people of this country know the promises that persuaded them to return Fianna Fail to power were an overdraft the people would have to pay back. With interest.

They know that they are poorer, right now. And will be poorer in every week of every month ahead. Not theoretically poorer. Really poorer. Poorer in a way that will hurt.

Because of this government’s war on the middle classes, an ordinary PAYE worker taking home 50,000 a year loses one thousand of their income. Directly. And then faces a rake of extra costs and hidden taxes draining away at their income.
If they’re lucky enough to keep their income and their job.

The people of this nation have boundless courage and an unequalled capacity to work. But this morning, they will read the details of a Budget that promises them a lowered standard of living. A seriously lowered standard of living. Some of them will be tipped into poverty. Nothing corrodes a family as does poverty brought about by circumstances they can’t control.

The new income levies are precisely that. They are crude in their design and impact. Once upon a time, before they caused us major problems, we levied the banks. Now that the banks have caused us enormous problems, this government doesn’t levy them at all: instead, this government slaps a levy on the mortgaged poor. This government rewards initiative, commitment and hard word by a crude and open theft of the worker’s hard-earned cash.

Now, in fairness, I have to acknowledge that this government has its strengths. Well, maybe I shouldn’t use the plural. This government has one strength. It’s good at spin.

It was spinning faster than a child’s top last night. Particularly about Social Welfare. Mary Hanafin’s department was the only one experiencing no cuts. Because it’s the department into whose care will fall the people who lose their jobs as a result of this Budget or who are tipped into poverty by it.

Now, set aside the spin and taste the reality. The reality is that for those on social welfare, the increases are likely to be less than the rate of inflation in 2009. The pensioners who get an extra Euro a day – wow – will see the value of that single Euro go down the tubes as the benefit of the medical card for over seventies gets means tested. They have cut 250,000 hours of home help. The unemployed will get reduced benefits – Job Seekers Benefits have been hacked back.

All this has been done under the spin of “No cutbacks in the funding doing to Mary Hanafin,” in the hope that no-one would notice the reality, which is that the weak and vulnerable are continuing to suffer.

Well, I have noticed. I will lead the Opposition in a relentless battle on their behalf. This Budget is all about taking back. Taking back from the decent diligent people who carry no responsibility for the disaster this Government has failed to avert. We have cutbacks in medical care provision and increased A&E charges. Families in Dublin will pay an additional €20,000 per year for long-term nursing home care of their elderly relatives.

(Does anybody remember the Fair Deal scheme that was going to make long-term care of the elderly accessible and anxiety free? If you do, just remind yourself of this Government’s mantra: Give a thing, take it back…)

This nation faces a cut in direct front line services in education, an actual increase in class sizes. While the government works out how to bail out the banks, parents are continually asked to bail out national schools – whether they can afford it or not. It’s a tax on parents – who are already hard pressed by rising food and fuel prices and economic uncertainty. (Does anybody remember the promises, in Education, of Micheál Martin and Noel Dempsey? Give a thing, take it back…)

For families, this Budget is a double-edged sword. The pain starts here and now. The real suffering will be felt six months down the road.

For businesses, it’s the same double-edged sword. Rises in car tax, petrol tax, travel tax, rises in capital gains tax and the prospect of more to come next year affect every citizen in this nation and every business, likewise.

Business is at the heart of Irish society. It drives and shapes and innovates. We have produced some of the most innovative companies in new business areas and ones that have transformed traditional industries. For business, the government’s key role is to manage the economic context. It didn’t.

It distanced itself from its own responsibilities. Let me give you just one example. The government established the National Competitiveness Council – and then ignored its reports. The mired businesses in regulation and red tape. They failed to drive competition into public transport or energy provision. They failed to deliver broadband. There are retail businesses in every town in Ireland that will simply close before the next budget. Every one of those closures will be a little tragedy for an individual, a family, a community.

They’ll close because they are crippled by increased government charges and because their cash flow will be hit by changing the payment dates for corporate tax in 2009 – spending tax for 2010 in 2009.

The sector which has already brought businesses to their knees is now in a bizarre partnership with this government. And so the Budget made no mention of the strong active regulation of the banking sector needed to protect the public interest.

This budget was borne out of a failure to take responsibility and an avoidance of blame. It emerges from a continued commitment to vested interests like the construction industry and the banks.

It may well push the economy from recession into depression. Fundamentally the budget is about raising taxes, anywhere and everywhere the Department of Finance could think of. It breaks basic economic rules:

– It continues to take money out of the economy rather than get better value for money already being spent.
– It commits us to massive borrowing – for day to day expenditure. A crucial economic error.
– It is horrifyingly over-optimistic for the years ahead.
– It makes no effort to reform a broken system.

Instead, it does U-turns. Panic instead of policy. U-turns on capital gains tax, u-turns on the medical card for the over 70s. And the signal of more U-turns next year: they will tax child benefit – a policy successive governments have opposed for decades.

This Budget is a portent of disaster. Despite the advance claims that the Government would take tough decisions, they haven’t. Instead, we’re promised more consultative committees. Without change at the heart of the economy change we simply won’t get back on a road to prosperity. We will not achieve anything if we simply take an axe to government spending without thought for the consequence. If we just play a numbers game.

21st Century Ireland needs 21st Century government – not the tarnished and jaded approaches of the last century. That’s why Fine Gael has proposed to:

– Freeze spending for 2009 to 2008 levels, with the exception of social welfare.
– Find nominal savings of 3% in each department. We have to freeze public sector pay for 2009 – we all have to feel the pain.
– Levy a fair charge on the banks for the Guarantee that’s kept them in business.
– Put in place a redundancy programme for 5,000 civil servants.

We also need to spend to protect those at most risk from the downside of the recession. In our plans, we didn’t set out to kid ourselves or anybody else, as the Minister for Finance did yesterday. He spoke of “Retrofitting homes” when in fact he was retrofitting reality. Yesterday was a brazen exercise in economic and political revisionism.

The reality is that for an easy political ride, this Government mortgaged the country to the builders and the developers and the speculators, creating a new elite, and now they demand that the hardworking Irish taxpayer bail them out.

And the Minister has a name for it. He calls it patriotism. Sir, this pointless punishment of the undeserving mortgaged poor is not patriotism. It is a war on the middle classes, a war on business and a failure to protect the vulnerable.

The Budget is no solution to the dire consequences of your Government’s bored, stale and frankly irresponsible failure to manage this economy over the past decade. It is a profoundly shameful shoring up of failure at the expense of the people of the nation.

I’ll post more on the budget later..

Author: Stephen

Cork born and bred, proud European and Irishman. Involved in many organisations and politics. Also writes for SpirtualityIreland.org and UCC Express.

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