What is Joan Burton up to?

Crop of Joan Burton at launch of the Labour Pa...
Crop of Joan Burton at launch of the Labour Party's 2011 General Election campaign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the Minister for Social Protection, Labour’s Joan Burton, up to? First she complains loudly about Fine Gael Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan meeting Michael Lowry after the Moriarty report and a photo of taken at the NYSE involving an Taoiseach Enda Kenny and business man Denis O’Brien.

It now turns out that Joan Burton met with Denis O’Brien at that same event. Hypocrisy much?

This emerged last night at the Labour Party Conference which is currently underway in Galway.

But What she is playing at? Is she trying to split the Government? If there is some sort of controversy Joan seems to be the first Minister to the nearest microphone and spout something which may or not be related to the issue.

She did it on the Fiscal Compact drawing a comparison with a deal on the Promissory Note.

So is Joan running a long campaign for leadership or is she hoping for early elections before Labour slip further in polls.

Only time will tell.

Enda’s Ard Fheis Speech

View from my seat for Enda's Speech

I’m finally back in Cork after last weekend’s Fine Gael Ard Fheis in the Convention Centre in Dublin. It was an interesting Ard Fheis with plenty to talk about and to plan for. The highlight of course was of course Enda Kenny’s speech on Saturday night.

His speech for me summed up the change that we have seen in Enda Kenny since the attempted heave in 2010. It was measured and it contained positives and negatives. I for one was very proud of An Taoiseach during that speech.

It was a speech that was not just for the party faithful, but for Irish Citizens watching at home and he used the speech perfectly well. Have a read of it yourself.

Just over a year ago, the Irish people turned to Fine Gael and the Labour Party at a time of national crisis.

We told the people then that it was time to get Ireland working again and that our plan was designed to make that happen.

The Irish people gave us their support and their trust in historic numbers.

I thank you for your trust.

Thank you for your belief, and for your patience, and for your sacrifice.

You gave us a mandate and a responsibility to clear away the air of fear and uncertainty.

To get our country moving in the right direction again.

Therefore, as we gather at this Ard Fheis, our purpose cannot be one of celebration.

We will not celebrate until Ireland has reason to celebrate. Tonight, unemployment remains too high. Too many families are struggling to make ends meet. Too many worry about losing their homes. Too many of our children are still moving away.

Our purpose now must be to redouble our efforts, to work even harder to deliver our plan.

To get Ireland Working.

To retrieve our economic independence and take back our country.

These tough times require straight talk.

So we will continue to be straight and honest with the people.

To tell them what we have done to meet our pledges, and how much work remains to be done.

To explain to people the scale of the challenge that remains.

This government has made a solid start, but we have a long way to go. Fine Gael and Labour are providing Ireland with a strong and stable government.

Our first priority was to stabilise the economy. That meant a tough Budget in which we had to make very difficult choices.I know that for many people, the measures we have had to take have been painful.But we are doing the best we can to protect the most vulnerable by reversing the cut in the minimum wage; by protecting basic welfare payments; and by exempting 330,000 low paid and part-time workers from the Universal Social Charge.

The public finances are coming under control, and the budget deficit will be down to 3% of GDP by 2015. We have downsized and recapitalized the banking system. Investor confidence is starting to return. Deposits are flowing back into our banks and several multi-national companies have announced investments to create further jobs, and others intend to follow.

Exports are performing strongly due to our improved competitiveness. Ireland’s international standing is being restored.

Over the past year, the Tanaiste and I, along with the other members of the Government, have worked hard to convince international political and business leaders that Ireland now has a serious government with a serious plan.

A government that can be trusted.

Crucial to that mission has been proving our determination to tackle the economic problems we inherited.

Our commitments under the EU/IMF agreement are being delivered in full and on time. The interest rates on these loans have been reduced, saving us €10 billion. The interest rates on Irish government bonds have fallen steadily. We have made a start on jobs.

Our first Budget saw no increase in income tax. Because taxing work damages jobs.

Our first jobs initiative helped create 6,000 jobs in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Already, 20,000 men and women have taken up training places on schemes including JobBridge and Springboard. We have made it much easier for foreign investors to visit and create jobs in Ireland.

Yes – this is a start.

But there is so much further to go, with so much more effort and imagination required.

We have also made a start on reforming the political system itself.

We cut ministerial pay and transport costs. The entitlements of former Taoisigh have been withdrawn. Work is continuing on legislation to reduce the size of the Dáil, and to prepare for a referendum for the abolition of the Seanad. I believe that more women should become involved in Irish politics.

To encourage more women into politics we are linking State funding of political parties to the level of female participation in elections. Parties, including our own, will be penalised if they do not fulfil these conditions.

We are continuing to reform the wider public sector. We are reducing the size and cost of the public service, and radically cutting the number of state agencies.

We need to reform the way we deliver our essential public services like health, education and justice. We must provide people with the quality services they deserve at a lower cost. To achieve this, we need the continued support and co-operation of those who work in our public service and the unions that represent them.

The shameful and corrupt practices revealed in the Moriarty and Mahon Tribunal Reports must never be allowed to happen again. That’s why this Government is taking firm action to break the link between business and political funding. That interaction should be based solely on achieving economic recovery through creating jobs.

Our new laws on political funding will ban corporate donations over €200 to a political party unless they are registered and declared.

We will create a register of lobbyists and enact new laws to give protection to those who discover and report unethical behaviour. These long overdue reforms, along with other measures being considered by Government, will help to put integrity, transparency and honesty back at the heart of public life.

While the steps we have taken in the first year have brought stability, we recognise that some of the pledges we made have not been delivered.

We had intended to legislate to end upward only rent reviews, but this has proven to be impossible because of constitutional difficulties.

We kept our promise to increase mortgage interest relief for people who bought their homes at the height of the property boom, but mortgage arrears remain a serious problem for far too many families.

We have made some progress in reducing the penal burden on the Irish people of the previous Government’s bailout of the banks.

Through a combination of burden sharing on junior bondholders, private investment and avoiding asset fire sales, we have more than halved the cost to tax payers envisaged in the original plan.

But despite these improvements, this burden remains too heavy.

Let me be clear. I will not throw away the progress we have made in the last year by reneging on our international commitments.

Ireland will NOT default.
But we are determined to ease this burden on our people.

That’s why we are negotiating with our Troika partners to find a cheaper way of financing the cost of bank recapitalisation.

That’s why the €3.1 billion promissory note payment due to be paid to Anglo Irish Bank on Monday is not being paid.But is being replaced by a long-term government bond and the wider negotiations will continue.

The year ahead is a crucial one for rebuilding and recovery.

An essential first step – and the Government’s immediate priority – will come at the end of May when the Irish people vote on the European Stability Treaty.

Throughout my recent visits to the United States, and to China this week, the consistent message from both political and business leaders is that they see Ireland’s place as a fully committed member of the Eurozone as a crucial element of Ireland’s attractiveness as a location for investment.

I cannot over-state it.

In this referendum, we have a brilliant opportunity to say to the world that Ireland believes in the future of the Euro, that Ireland is central to the future of the Eurozone, that Ireland is four-square with Europe, as together we build a system that will bring responsible budgeting to Euro governments and Euro nations across the entire Eurozone.

This commitment is an investment in our children’s future, and in our country’s future.

Never again will a government be able to behave recklessly and arrogantly with the people’s money.

In recent months alone numerous multi-national companies have shown their confidence in Ireland by committing to new investments here.

I want to continue and grow this strong flow of inward investment in the future…for our future.

I want Ireland to have the same access as other countries to the insurance policy of the ESM – a critical reassurance for investors.

We can do this, we can achieve this….by voting YES.
Yes to Europe.
Yes to Jobs.
Yes to Ireland.
YES on May 31st.

As you know, my message while abroad recently has been strong and clear – Ireland is open for business.

Now is the time to invest in our recovery.

I recently signed economic co-operation agreements with China and the United Kingdom, both of which offer significant potential for the future.

We must translate that rising international confidence into more jobs all across this country.

We are a nation of doers and entrepreneurs. But there are still too many obstacles to job creation – too much red tape, too many high costs and too many archaic regulations.

The measures taken in the Jobs’ Initiative last May have helped. But this is not nearly enough.
I always said that this was only a first step towards my commitment to make jobs the top priority of this Government.

Jobs are about more than work. Jobs are about dignity, incentive, pride.

More jobs mean better lives, stronger communities, more resources for public services, and less debt.That‘s why last month, this Government published our Action Plan for Jobs.

We aim to create 100,000 extra jobs by 2016. The plan contains 270 separate actions to remove the barriers to job creation. Actions to cut the cost of red-tape by a quarter. Actions to cut the different employments-rights bodies from five to two.

Banks must become part of the solution to the jobs crisis by meeting their agreed lending targets.

The Partial-Loan Guarantee Scheme will give existing companies more and better access to bank credit. We will stimulate investment in infrastructure by using some of the proceeds from the disposal of State assets to pay for extra investment in areas like water and energy that can boost jobs and growth.

We will make it easier to expand into overseas markets, for example with tax reliefs for companies sending sales-people to the rapidly-expanding economies of China, Brazil and India.

We will also support traditional sectors of the economy, such as the plan to double food exports by 2020.

Action will be taken to ignite new sectors of the economy – such as cloud computing, digital gaming and data content storage.

I believe that in the next five years, Ireland can become a global hub for cloud computing.
The key to the success of this jobs plan is in the title – ACTION.

All Government Ministers and State Agencies are committed to the delivery of this plan. My Department of the Taoiseach will drive its implementation throughout the public service.

In fact, the idea of ‘drive’ is behind every aspect of what this government is undertaking.
And this drive makes sure that economic recovery does not by-pass those who have lost their jobs, their wealth and even their self-confidence in this recession.

People on the live register must be put at the top of the queue to fill newjobs as they arise.

Ireland hasn’t been good enough to, or strong enough for its jobseekers. The supports have been too passive and too scattered. The vast majority of people who are out of work want a hand up, not a hand out. These men and women know the dignity of work, and feel its absence in their lives. Our Pathways to Work Plan will help those people.

From now on, the day a person loses their job is the day the State starts helping them to find another job, or to train for another job.

In place of FAS there will be a one-stop-shop for job-seekers where welfare claims will be processed thoroughly and quickly.

This new person-centred system will identify and help those most at risk of being unemployed long-term. With all the difficult consequences of that. Because of our duty to help people find work and to use their talents for their own good and for the good of the country, we will give employers additional incentives to hire people who are currently out of work.

That means extending the employer PRSI exemption scheme from 12 to 18 months.

This Government wants work to pay. It has to be seen to be a more attractive option than staying on the dole.

That is why in the last Budget we delivered on our commitment not to increase taxes on income and work.

Now we will ensure that the social protection system incentivises, rather than discourages, people from returning to work.

Reforms to the jobseekers’ schemes are being introduced to ensure that people in part-time employment are encouraged to take up full-time employment whenever possible.

We also need to show the debt-distressed in our communities that there is light at the end of tunnel.
For too many people, the only escape from unsustainable debts is long-term bankruptcy, economic inactivity or emigration.

I know this.

I’m frustrated that we haven’t been able to move as fast as we wanted to, to tackle the mortgage crisis.

So, I’ve appointed a temporary Cabinet Committee, which I chair, to drive action in four vital areas:

Firstly, we will work with the Financial Regulator to encourage banks to offer “negative equity mortgages”, whereby families can, depending on their circumstances, trade up or down.

Secondly, we will finalise and enact a Personal Insolvency Bill designed to rebalance the rights of the borrower and lender, in a fairer way.

Thirdly, we will expand the use of “mortgage to rent” for families who can no longer afford their mortgages, to allow them to sell their houses and rent them back at affordable rents.

Fourthly, to free up the housing market, we are giving additional mortgage interest relief to first time buyers who buy their homes before the end of 2012.

These steps are to protect our families and to keep our children in the most powerful and precious place they will ever have in their lives: HOME.

This is a great country with unlimited potential. We are now regarded the world over as being a country on the way back. We have the best young generation on the planet. Our challenge is to harness all these qualities together and nothing will stop us.

We’ve overcome hardship and adversity in the past. We’ve overcome poverty and deprivation in the past. We’ve beaten all these difficulties.

I don’t have all the answers but I do know this: a government that works hard, that brings honesty, clarity and decisiveness in its service of the people will not fail.

It is my privilege to lead such a Government and I am proud to do so.

And I look forward to achieving my ambition that by 2016 we will prove to be the best small country in the world to do business, the best country in which to raise a family, and the best country in which to grow old with dignity and respect.
My Government will work with you to fulfil these ambitions in the interest of our future, our country and our children.

Fiscal Treaty Referendum: Thursday May 31st

The date has been set for the Fiscal Treaty Referendum and it will take place on Thursday May 31st. Polls will be open from 7am until 10pm.

The date was announced by An Táiniste Eamonn Gilmore in the Dáil this afternoon following a Cabinet Meeting this morning when the date was agreed upon.

There will be much disappointment that the vote will be held on a Thursday considering that Fine Gael and Labour regularly lambasted past Governments for holding elections on weekdays.

Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin has called on the Government to produce a white paper on the treaty to aid discussion and debate on the treaty.

The next step for the Government now will be to publish the bill to amend the Constitution to allow for the treaty to be ratified and then to set up a Referendum Commission to inform the public.

Campaigners have 64 days to persuade people of there arguments and with recent polls showing the Yes side in the lead with 60% its going to be a tough campaign!

Don’t forget you can read the treaty here!

Ireland to vote on Fiscal Compact

Enda Kenny (left), Leader of Fine Gael, at the...
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An Taoiseach Enda Kenny today announced in the Dail that Ireland will hold a referendum to ratify the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union otherwise known as the Fiscal Compact.

This will be one of three referenda held in Ireland this year. The other two will be on the long awaited Children’s Rights Referendum and on abolishing the Seanad.

The decision to hold a referendum has been welcomed across the political spectrum, though also drawing battle lines with Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail in favour of ratification and Sinn Fein, the ULA and some of the independents.

According to a poll in last months Sunday Business Post by Red C suggested that 40% of voters would vote in favour while 36% would vote against. Interestingly enough 24% did not know how they would vote.

So it is all to play for

Reaction to Budget 2012: Part 1

L-R: Brendan Howlin pictured during the Labour...
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Today we got a look at the first part of Budget 2012 . Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin today announced a series of measures that add up to the €2.2bn in cuts.

The main points that I took from today’s announcements:

  • Government will reduce the size of the public service to 282,500 by end 2015
  • €250 added to the Student Registration Fee
  • Student Support funding cut by 14%
  • Student Maintenance Grant cut by 3%
  • No new post Graduate Maintenance Grants
  • Community Employment Scheme: The training and materials grant will reduce from €1,500 to €500 per participant per annum
  • Disability Allowance Cut to €0 for those aged 16 and 17
  • Disability Allowance for under 25s cut from €188 to €100 if under 21 and €144 if under 24. Now same as jobseekers allowance
  • Drugs Payment Scheme increased to €132
  • The frequency of the grant for hearing aids will change from 2 years to 4 years.
  • Winter Fuel Allowance reduced to 26 weeks from 32

There are plenty of other cuts and changes announced, see the links at the end for them all.

To me what stands out from this budget is the Disabled. Above I highlighted the cuts to young people with Disabilities, but on top of that there are cuts to the Equality Tribunal, Equality Authority and the Budget for Equality Proofing is completely gone. This is not how we are going to look after people in our society and allow them to live their lives with dignity.

The cuts also focus on students with an increase in Registration fees and grant cuts. We cannot tax our way out of the recession but we do need a knowledge economy we we want to get out the recession so cuts in Education make very little sense.

In these times it is understandable that the Government faces tough choices, and these cuts were probably hard to make. No one is ever 100% happy we a budget, and very few people will be close to that after today’s announcement. But as An Taoiseach warned us in his National Address, these are tough times and tough measures are needed, but they too need to be balanced. The problem with the cuts announced today is that these same people will be hit tomorrow in any announcement of an increase in indirect taxation, especially a VAT rise.

The Minister for Finance will deliver his Budget statement at 3:45pm tomorrow.

Further Reading:

Budget 2012 (pt 1): the main points of Brendan Howlin’s announcement

The Insider: Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny
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This Column appeared in the Cork Independent on Thursday 26th May 2011

I joined Fine Gael in 2004. If someone told me on that day, that in seven years time Enda Kenny would be welcoming the British Queen and American President to Ireland as the leader of the largest party in Dáil Eireann and the Toaiseach of the largest Government Majority in coalition with Labour. I probably would have laughed in their face and said in your dreams.

During my many years in the party we had ups and downs, thankfully I was too young to have been around for the heartache that was the 2002 election. But still we had down times during ill timed announcments, racist jokes and of course leadership rumours and heaves.

Enda has not been the most popular Leader of Fine Gael, either among the grassroot members or the general public. He generally muddled true and it was viewed by many, including myself at times, that the incompetence of the then Government over some issues is what was making Enda look good.

In the lead up the this years General Election, the leadership was the biggest issue on the doorstep, after the economy of course. Coming up to the TV3 debate in which Enda refused to take part in, saw people being most critical of him. But after that it changed. The RTÉ and TG4 debates changed peoples mind and saw him as a safe pair of hands.

When he was elected Taoiseach on 9th of March, Enda started his biggest political challenge since 2002. How as it gone since then? Quite well. Enda has surprised his critics and his supporters in how he has handled his role as Taoiseach. He is playing the role of chairman and has made appointments to cabinets based on strengths. It is stilll early days and major challenges lie ahead.

What has he done well? He has managed to judge the public mood with his speeches and say exactly the right things. During the visit of Her Majesty and President Obama he has spoken gracefully and eloquently about the visits and how important they are to us all as a country. He has spoken well in the Dáil on many issues from the Banking crisis to political reform. This of course can just be seen as platitudes

What hasnt he done well on? The much vaulted and hoped for reduction in the Irish Bailout rate has yet to materialise. Enda has spoken much and this subject and while pressing his European colleagues it has failed to materialise. Enda has also failed to stop the jibes in Dáil, which can often be seen as a reason why people have lost interest in the politics. He himself is guilty of it.

There are many challenges ahead for the Government. This years budget could be make or break in terms of support from the public. Political Refrom could become a dead end as politicians could refuse to change their ways as they have in the past. And of course there is the finiancial system itself. It the economy dosen’t improve, will the government go with it.

Overall Verdict: Better then Expected

Garret Fitzgerald RIP

Crop of Garret FitzGerald arriving for The Lis...
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This morning I awoke to the sad news that former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald had passed away. “Garret the Good” as he was known was always someone held in high regard in my family. He is one of the Giants of Irish Politics. He gave his all to Irish Politics and was a shining example of active citizenship in this country.

He was the founding fathers of Young Fine Gael as part of his reorganisation of Fine Gael in 1977. He is one of the reasons I joined the Fine Gael party. He dragged the Fine Gael party to the centre and allowed it be the party that is now.

Garret played a massive role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and this weeks events is a testament to the ground work he did.

Also Garret was Minister for Foreign Affairs during Ireland’s first EU Presidency and was widely praised for this. He interest in Europe never waned and he was involved in the campaigns for the Nice and Lisbon Treaties. In future campaigns on Europe he will be sorely missed. For both his passion and his intellect.

We now as a state must be thankful to Garret for what he did for us.

My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. May he Rest in Peace.

Ar dheis de go raibh a anam dilis

Links

Polls Open 7am February 25th

Mary McAleese's signature.
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The Dáil has been dissolved by President McAleese in the last minutes. The date of the election has also been set. Voting will take place between 7am and 10pm on Friday 25th of February.

Any prospective Candidates have until noon February 9th to file nomination papers. People eligible to vote but not yet registered as electors may apply for entry in the supplementary register. Deadline is 8 February. The closing date for eligible categories to apply to the relevant Council to be put on the postal or special voting list is 3 February.

3.1 million people are registered to vote for the 165 TD’s that will be elected in 43 constituencies. The Ceann Comhairle is returned unopposed.

In 24 days the Irish People will have their chance heard. Let them say it loud!

The Fianna Fail Heave

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez with Ir...
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So Fianna Fail are as divided as Fine Gael was last summer. The Fianna Fail parliamentary party meeting gets under way at 5:30pm and is expected to last until around 9pm. The wording of the motion to be debated is reported to be

“That the Fianna  Fáil parliamentary party has confidence in Brian Cowen TD as leader of Fianna Fáil.”

Its been a tough week for Brian Cowen in his office as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fail and has fast fallen from approval with both the public and his party.

On Sunday Cowen made a big mistake in relation to this heave. He should have accepted Michaél Martin’s resignation. For how can he keep someone in his cabinet that has no confidence in him. This is the approach Enda took with Richard Bruton and it probably helped save him as it showed he could take decisive action. Cowen has proven yet again that he cannot make the hard decision.

Listening to Mr Cowen on Six One news last night it struck me again how useless Cowen is at communicating. He started on about “transformative changes” rather then just saying “changes”, which would have been enough for most people.

I am not sure if Michaél Martin is the best person to lead the Fianna Fail party, but his actions this weekends show that he has balls, and will make a decision, eventually!

Is this what we are going to be left with? A Fianna Fail government afraid to make a decision. We are in a bad financial state as it is. This Government needs to go. This sorry saga shows that Fianna Fail is putting itself first. TD’s are worried about their seats and no they are in jeopardy if Cowen stays on as leader. But do they have the guts to sack him? I don’t think so.

Will the Government delay the election?

A lunchtime protest by dislocated workers was ...
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Today’s Editorial in the Irish Independent asks for that the following occurs,

On December 7, the Dail must pass the Budget. Then the Finance Bill should go through with unprecedented speed, to clear the way for the General Election.

Most people would agree that that is the way that the Government should be planning things, if the budget passes.

But are they?

According to Leo Varadkar TD, they are not.

Under Fianna Fáil’s plan, there are only 10 sitting days left until the Dáil rises on December 16th followed by a 33 day break until the Dáil sits again on January 19th. The Taoiseach has consistently claimed that the Budget is of prime importance yet he is refusing to bring it forward or allow extra time for it and the subsequent Finance and Social Welfare Bills to be debated and voted upon.

This is a joke. If the Government does not change this plan, it will not be looked on favourable by the electorate. They are hanging on by a thread and by following this course of action they are trying to cling to their positions as they know the writing is on the wall.

Hopefully the Greens will try and change this plan.

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