Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Confidence in the Taoiseach and the Government: Motion
Enda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
Our economy has been brought to its knees. It is clear that fairness is not evident in the daily lives of our people. The lack of fairness in our economy is badly hurting every household in the land. Society has been torn apart and ruptured by social pressure and the consequences of the Government's actions. Many of these issues are the fault of the Taoiseach because he failed to direct the Government's actions as he should have. Those outcomes result directly from the Government's policies. For example, it allowed the banking system to run wildly out of control. As late as September 2008, the Taoiseach claimed:
The Irish banking sector has very well secured loans. It is my intention to ensure that the Irish taxpayer will not be held liable in any way for any deficit that might occur in the event of there being a problem in the future.
He said the Irish taxpayer would not be held responsible for any debt that might occur in the future. He should reconsider that in the context of the €22 billion that is being put into Anglo Irish Bank. A few months later, he told the Irish people that the Government would write any cheque that was required for the banks. That is exactly what it has done. It has written a cheque, on behalf of the Irish people, for almost €25 billion for Anglo Irish Bank and the Irish Nationwide Building Society, even though those institutions are, in effect, dead. Nothing illustrates better the toxic triangle that existed between Fianna Fáil, the developers and the bankers than the manner in which the Government has handled these two failed institutions. Under the nose of the Government, they were allowed to convert themselves from simple savings and loans institutions into State-backed gambling machines. In the case of Irish Nationwide, the machine was willing to approve loans of 100% or more to former Fianna Fáil Ministers, without even the pretence of going through the usual credit-approval process.
They were machines gambling with the people's money.
The evidence from the Honohan and Regling and Watson reports and from other sources is clear. It was the Taoiseach, when Minister for Finance, who authorised the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to transform itself from a planning body into a development agency, which borrowed massively from Anglo Irish Bank, resulting in taxpayer losses of up to €400 million. It was Fianna Fáil that appointed Seán FitzPatrick and re-appointed Lar Bradshaw to the board of the DDDA despite the obvious conflicts arising from their membership of the board of Anglo Irish Bank. The Taoiseach knew this and condoned it. He let it happen.
It was also the Taoiseach who had supper with the board of Anglo Irish Bank in 2008, just before the bank's shares were placed with the golden circle of investors and the bank began to lose its deposits. Does anybody in the country believe that the guests talked about football and the weather at that fine supper? It was the Taoiseach and his Minister for Finance who decided, in September 2008, to guarantee not just depositors but risk investors in Anglo Irish Bank - a decision that cost the Irish taxpayer dearly and has been sharply criticised by the Governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan.
The pattern is clear. At every point the Taoiseach did all in his power to protect the bank and its big investors, regardless of the cost to the Irish public. His actions have not only damaged our economy but undermined vital public trust in the institutions of our democracy. Last week this House was strangled and prevented from discussing the banking crisis or the catastrophe of pregnant women being told their foetuses had died. The House was the only place in the entire country where discussion on these sensitive and important issues was not allowed, while the Government prepared for its press conference in order to achieve some sense of credibility through spin.
Phrases such as "the golden circle", "crony Government", "cosy capitalism" and "the Galway tent" are what the Minister for Finance described as the socio-political context in which the banking crisis occurred. Of course, the Galway tent and its attendees were central to the socio-political context. These phrases all describe the same thing: the take-over of our Republic by the rich and powerful, aided and abetted by the Government. A republic, as the Taoiseach well knows, is not just a form of government or a set of institutions. It is a living, breathing thing nourished by the dreams and hopes of its people. Its lifeblood is the trust that binds us, which allows us to say, "We are all in this together".
It is that central trust which the Taoiseach has destroyed. He has divided Ireland between the insiders, who manipulate the system for their own benefit, and the vast majority of our citizens, who are left powerless on the outside. He has divided Ireland between those at the top, who never take responsibility or face the consequences of their actions, and the thousands of hard-working families who must now pay the price for his mistakes and incompetence. In a republic, the people are supposed to be supreme. Based on that simple criterion, the Irish Republic, which this party was proud to declare, is now a republic in name only. The Celtic tiger is dead and the Government has failed to harness the Celtic spirit. It is that spirit, deep within our people, and not the mandarins of Merrion Street, that will eventually pull this country through. It is about time the Government turned its face towards the people and towards that community spirit, rather than turning its back on them as it did when it walked out of here last week.
We now stand, thanks to the Taoiseach and his Government, in the wreckage of a great economy. When this party, along with the Labour Party, handed over to Fianna Fáil in 1997, there was a budget surplus, with a thousand jobs being created every week, high productivity and low costs. The Fianna Fáil Government has destroyed all the potential benefit from this. Around this country, families live in a world of shrinking hopes, withered dreams and texts from Australia and America. Without vision, we perish; but the Taoiseach, together with all those who surround him on the Government benches, is without vision.
The people of Ireland yearn for leadership, direction and a sense of hope and possibility. They yearn for a roadmap to recovery. The Taoiseach has not even bothered to try to provide any of these. Back in 2004, a Member of this House defined good government as follows: "Good government does not mean responding blindly to headlines or being pressured into half-responses. It means sensible policies, soundly based, with realistic, achievable and prioritised targets". That Member was the Taoiseach, who now stands condemned by his own words. Based on his own definition of good government, he has failed and failed again. He has turned poor, unaccountable Government into an art form.
His answer to the banking crisis is to write whatever cheques are necessary to bail out professional investors in banks, leaving the country in massive debt. His answer to the fiscal crisis is to hike taxes and cut services, pay and investment, while ignoring the bloated structures of politics and Government. His answer to the competitiveness crisis is to encourage cuts in pay for low earners while ignoring the costs of services administered or regulated by Government. Whenever he is queried on his policies, he relies for endorsement on the very same banks, stockbrokers and institutions that he now blames for giving him the wrong advice as Minister for Finance. To paraphrase the playwright, the Government is barren as a brick.
As the architect-in-chief of our economic crisis, how can the Taoiseach come here today and ask this House to vote confidence in him? As the man who has consistently denied any major responsibility for our economic crisis, how can he claim that he has any moral authority to sit in that seat? As the man who helped destroy trust in the institutions of this Republic, how can he possibly ask the Irish people to place their trust in him? Why should they?
This goes beyond the mere confines of banks and fiscal policy. When I asked him in the House about his predecessor's conduct in taking payments while holding the highest office in the land, he said the former Taoiseach was "not incorrect". Did he not express full confidence in, and vote to retain in the Cabinet, a discredited Minister in the knowledge that he had submitted a sworn affidavit to the High Court which he knew to be false? These standards, and his actions, are unacceptable in any quarter, least of all in the highest office in the land.
There is only one honourable action open to the Taoiseach if he accepts responsibility for the decisions that have driven our economy onto the rocks. My challenge for the Taoiseach, if he wants to put this acceptance of responsibility to the test, is to go to the country. Let us have a general election, so that the people can give their verdict, whatever it might be, on of the actions of this Government, which has destroyed the hopes and aspirations of so many and now commands the support of a mere 12% of the Irish people.