Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Confidence in Government: Motion
I congratulate the Green Party on pulling the rug from under the Government on 22 November. We thought for a short period we would have an end to a Government that has outlived its purpose. One of the many farces in this episode has been that having announced the Government would end in January, the Green Party representatives said they would support the budget and the finance Bill. Now we do not know when the general election will take place because there is a game of cat and mouse going on between the Greens and Fianna Fáil at a time when the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. Fianna Fáil is dangling the prospect of a climate change Bill and Oireachtas reform, among other things, in front of the noses of Green Party Members. There is a possibility that electoral politics will keep this Government for two, three or four more months. Let nobody be in any doubt that that is the game being played.
The Green Party could have done the nation a great service by announcing that it was pulling the rug from under Fianna Fáil there and then, but it did not do this. It left the electoral timetable in limbo; in fact, it has left the nation in limbo. What is the state of the nation? What has happened to Ireland in the past few months is complete and utter humiliation, for which the responsibility rests with the Government and nobody else. Whether we like it, we are now the beggars of Europe. We are the people who went cap in hand to the IMF and the European Union, even to the Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom, which are bailing us out. It is, psychologically and historically, a major humiliation for us. That is the state into which the Government has led us and in which it will leave us. No one overseas will lend money to Ireland.
-----but to take it because nobody else would lend to us. We are, I am afraid, despised by many other nations because of the trouble we and the economy have caused. What happened? When we went looking for money, we had one card to play, that we would sting the bondholders. However, we were told by the European heads that they would not even tolerate such; it was taken off the table immediately and we had nothing at all then to bargain with. That is the reality, Senator Cassidy.
Therefore, we took what was given to us by our European partners and the International Monetary Fund in one of the most humiliating exercises in the history of the State. That is where we stand. The Government came home and told us we had no option and that default was not to be spoken about. This morning the Minister for Finance said on radio that we were not to talk about default. Why not? Because it is embarrassing for the Government. There has been a deliberate mix-up between what is in the national interest and what is in the interests of Fianna Fáil.
It was the Government which allowed the banks to behave in the way they did, was close to the developers and let the regulator off the hook. Why did it do this? Today we are being told time and again not to worry and everything is fine because we are only going back as far as 2006. That is the spin that has been put on it. Social welfare payments are returning to what they were in 2006. Imagine that being the boast of a Government - that we are only going back four years. That is what the Government has done. It is taking us back four years, but it has taken the economy back a lot further.
I ask the Government why, although it initially managed some aspects of the banking crisis with a certain amount of integrity, it began in the middle of the crisis to practice the old habits Fianna Fáil, apparently, cannot and never will discard. Why did it make political appointments - appointments of individuals identified closely with the current regime - to the banks?
The Government has never lost its knack of appointing its friends to State boards. When it nationalised Anglo Irish Bank, it appointed Mr. Aidan Eames, a fund-raiser, to the board. The situation was far too serious for such individuals to be appointed to boards and for Fianna Fáil to appoint ex-Ministers, able though they might have been. It should have appointed individuals without a political pedigree, but it could not and still cannot do this. It appoints its friends all the time to sit on boards of vital national importance because it has utter contempt for these institutions. It regards them as its own, to be used for the benefit of the party.
I wrote in my book that I had spoken to a Cabinet Minister who told me that when he was sitting at the Cabinet table, Deputy Bertie Ahern who was Taoiseach at the time knew far more about what was happening on the boards of semi-State bodies than the Minister did, although semi-State bodies were the responsibility of his Department. The individuals appointed to the boards were of the view that they were answerable to the Taoiseach of the day and kept in touch with him, not with the Minister, because they were designated, loyal party people. That continues in this country. What did the Government do when it discovered the enormous waste and learned about the abuse of power on the board of FÁS? Instead of appointing the people who were there automatically, it reverted to the old system of political appointments. That is what it did and still does.
This is partly the reason the nation is in this position because cronyism breeds waste and enormous extravagance and leaves the nation in a state of arrogance, intolerance and profligacy. That is what happened in CIE. I have mentioned it here before because the Leader of the House would not allow a debate on CIE. Not only was there the appointment of cronies, although that did take place, there was also a refusal by Government Members to allow them to come before an Oireachtas committee to give evidence. The Fianna Fáil Party voted not to allow them to give evidence. What is that? It is cronyism. It is protecting one's cronies and subverting democracy. I do not believe any Government which behaves in that way deserves to remain in office. That amounts to a single party State protecting its own and running the country not for the benefit of the nation but for itself. What sort of legacy will Fianna Fáil leave when it departs office this time? It will leave a nation and an economy a good deal worse off than when it came in. It will leave with unemployment high and a nation almost bankrupt. Yet it is telling us today that exports are better and that the public service is in a good state. It will leave the nation in a state of almost total and utter penury.
I welcome the Minister and I look forward to the responses to the debate. I come at this from a slightly different perspective to that of my colleague, Senator Ross. It is important that he has tabled the motion and that we hold a discussion. I hope the debate will not be on the basis of interruptions and that people deal with the issues. I do not come at this on the basis of issues, but on the technicality of the motion and I hope to convince the House why I reached the position to second the motion. We discussed various approaches, including the possibilities of the budget, but this is the motion we agreed Senator Ross would move.
I put it to the Government and to the Minister that I have supported a good deal of Government decision making during the past two years. Senator Ross and I have disagreed on some of the issues. I supported the deposit guarantee scheme and NAMA and I do not believe there has been a loss of sovereignty with regard to the IMF business. I have no wish to go into those issues but I wish to put it on the record. There will be no easy response to the points I am making.
I wish to put a question to the Leader and the Minister. I have dealt with the Government, listened to its proposals and responded to them in a positive or critical way, depending on the case, as I have gone along. Although I disagreed with many of the things the Government did, the question of confidence did not arise until one party in Government stood up out of the blue and declared it was walking away from the Government. I seek an answer to this question: how can I have confidence in the Government members when half of them claim they cannot live with the other half? This is a straightforward practical issue and one of the problems I have with the Green Party.
Another problem with the Green Party in government is its legislative list. I was led to believe that it would bring forward reform and major legislation on local government in Government. However, we have got nowhere with it. I heard one colleague discuss the importance of urban councils and councillors this morning. I agree completely with the views expressed. That person's reasons may be somewhat different from mine but I agree with the structure for local government endorsed. I had looked forward to the legislation on the Dublin mayor which would deal with several other matters in which I took an interest as well. More than anything else, I looked forward as did my colleague Senator Ross to the proposal on corporate donations which, we were assured, the Green Party would introduce before it left Government. How can I have confidence if I have been given these sacred promises and commitments from which it is now walking away? I am asked to have confidence in the Government which is, at the very least, half broken.
A further issue with that half of the Government relates to the facts on Seanad reform. I have simply given up on it. Senator Ross and myself have listened to discussions time and again. We attended a meeting chaired by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, some two and a half years ago. We were given a guarantee that proposals would emerge from the meeting within a couple of weeks. Then it became a couple months and then it became Christmas. That was one year ago and we are still waiting. Will the Leader indicate the position on this matter? Apparently the Government is taking a political line on the question of Seanad reform and is trying to match Fine Gael. A significant constitutional issue relating to the Houses of Parliament is being made into a political issue. The matter should be debated although I have no wish to go into it now. However, if we do not see the colour of the Government's money on a promise it made at the beginning of its term of office which it is now considering ignoring, how can I have confidence? These are straight questions and I call on the Minister and the other side to address them.
Regarding the Fianna Fáil Party, I was elected to this House some 24 or 25 years ago. One of the people elected at that time was Deputy Dermot Ahern. I have known him for that period. He and I may disagree on many things but I know him to be honest, truthful, committed and not for turning. I saw him hung out to dry two weeks ago. I am unsure whether it was done deliberately and I am not interested in the question of untruths, lies or whatever. The fact is that we were all misled by two Ministers, including Deputy Dermot Ahern, but I do not believe he would do so deliberately. That is my judgment on that man. I believe he is honest and straightforward. Therefore, something was broken in Government and this created a situation where two Ministers faced the cameras and were effectively hung out to dry. They made fools of themselves and could not do anything about it. How can I have confidence if two significant Ministers in the main party in Government are treated like that?
Another issue is the talk within Fianna Fáil of changing the leader. I wish to offer a judgment in this regard. If there is someone in the Fianna Fáil Party who can handle finances better than the Taoiseach I wish to know who it is.
However, there is no support. I watched him dealing with a live press conference one and a half weeks ago. He handled it with style and ability and he knew what he was doing. I listened to him on Newstalk at midday and on the "News at One". I saw him batting in the Dáil this morning. It was one thing after anther. I cannot see anyone better on the opposite side of the House.
The Government side is all over the place but it calls on us to have confidence in it. That is the issue. One need not agree, disagree or "Hear, hear" me. That is not the issue. This is about the uncertainty and lack of confidence that the Government side is infusing into the situation, but it calls on us to have confidence. I trust it will begin to get the message about the difficulties this creates for those of us on this side of the House.
I have listened to all the discussions on the minimum wage, including the argument about the gap between welfare and the minimum wage. I have considered all the reasons but I have not heard any logical reason put forward for the reduction in the minimum wage. IBEC did not call for it and the National Competitiveness Council did not envisage any gain. It was not sought by any representative group. I have not done the sums but it seems the Government has managed to narrow the gap between welfare and the minimum wage. We have reduced the minimum wage more than welfare and therefore we have narrowed the gap. I have listened to one and a half years of discussion about the gap and a situation whereby people are more content to stay on welfare and have no wish to take a job on the minimum wage but now we narrow the gap to worsen that situation.
Those are six reasons but I could give more. How can I be asked to have confidence in the Government? I wish to put the issues straight down but I have no wish to make it easy on the other side. I have only mentioned one issue-driven matter and I do not care if I do not get an answer on the issue-driven question but I seek an answer to the questions of why we have been fooled about the legislative list from the Green Party, why we have not been given Seanad reform despite promises from the Government and why the Government appears to be changing its mind now following a solemn commitment. How can we trust a Government half of whose members are walking away? How can we trust a party which speaks of not having confidence in its leader? How can we have confidence in a Government if two of its main Ministers are hung out to dry and manage to mislead the whole country? Then there is the issue of the minimum wage. I call on the Minister to deal with the technical matters and to discuss them with me. I look forward to hearing why the Government can justify opposing the motion. The Government side might believe we should have confidence but it should explain why we should not have tabled the motion. How can we have confidence in the light of the context in which I have placed the issues?
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
-supports the ongoing efforts by the Government to restore economic stability and growth;
-agrees with the commitment to reach the 3% deficit target required under the Stability and Growth Pact; and
accordingly expresses confidence in the Government.".
Senator O'Toole has answered his own questions about the Taoiseach's ability and credibility.
I must put the record straight. Senator Ross was a member of the Fine Gael Party, once standing for it in a general election. On the day that party last left office in 1997 and prior to the formation of a new government, it filled 148 positions on various State boards. Perhaps the bad example was started by your party, Senator Ross, when you were a member of it and not by Fianna Fáil.
This amendment affirms confidence in the Government's economic strategy and the leadership of the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, and his Ministers. As I have said on previous occasions, the Taoiseach is a man of substance and of real integrity. In tough economic times, we need people in government with broad shoulders who will not be deflected by criticism. We need them to have the bottle to do what is right by the country and who will not be rattled or thrown off course by fleeting opinion polls.
This country is battling its way through a major economic crisis. I do not buy into the idea peddled by some in the Opposition in recent days that this country is banjaxed or an economic corpse. The past 13 years have seen a transformation in the facilities this country provides which is a credit to the Government. Those who deny this are not being honest with themselves or the people they represent.
I have always had a strong belief in the capacities and abilities of the Irish people. By working together, we can overcome our present difficulties. Since the middle of 2008, the Government has taken significant steps in response to the rapid deterioration in our public finances to stabilise the situation and return this country to a sustainable fiscal position.
Adjustments amounting to close to €15 billion have been implemented over the past two years. Yesterday's budgetary adjustment of an additional €6 billion is another crucial instalment in reaching the crucial 3% deficit target. It puts us on the road to recovery and back to job creation. With yesterday's budget, we are now two thirds of the way through the necessary adjustments.
The Government understands people want assurance and hope. I believe the four year recovery plan and budget provide this. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Government have shown leadership as a team and made the right decisions. The four year plan provides a roadmap for the future, enabling people to plan for it.
Others too have shown faith in Ireland's ability to overcome this crisis. It is a pity the main Opposition parties are not among them. They would do well to ponder the recent words of the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn:
The Irish are smart, resilient and stubborn people. They will get over this challenge and the EU is supporting them in that. Ireland has hit a very deep economic recession resulting from the financial crisis, which hit Ireland because of its credit boom and real estate bubble. But the economy will face up to serious challenges. Ireland has a flexible and open economy, which is capable of rebounding relatively rapidly from this recession.
I have no time for those who claim everything in this country is gone and all progress made wiped out. In just over a decade, we have put in place a world class national road network, 4,000 more gardaí and more than 9,000 special needs assistants. The social welfare budget has been trebled while the prices of goods and services increased by less than a third. There are many positives in our country today. Up to 1.86 million people are in work with a young educated workforce. The live register has stabilised for the third month running while redundancies are down 23% on this time last year.
Ireland is number one in the world for jobs created by foreign direct investment. Eight of the world's top ten technology firms are based in Ireland. Our exports are bucking the trend with the balance of payments of the economy moving into surplus. This important fact tells us that our economic relations with the rest of the world are firmly pointing towards our capacity to pay our way, to service our debts and to achieve economic and fiscal stability.
Regarding the burning of the banks' bondholders, I want to bring to the attention of the House a perceptive and intelligent article by Senator Harris in last weekend's Sunday Independent:
[Meantime,] I have no trust in those hurlers on the ditch, at home or abroad, who [blatantly] blithely speak of playing poker and burning the bondholders. The chips in this game are the Irish people. We cannot risk them being badly burned too.
Last week, Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan acted like leaders. [Eschewing] the empty bluster of Eamon Gilmore they settled for doing good rather than looking good. [Our] Fine Gael [colleagues] showed a firm touch too. Michael Noonan told Prime Time it would be "imprudent" to renege on senior debt except it was part of a general EU strategy.
Like Senator Harris, I too have no time for those hurlers on the ditch who want to gamble Ireland's future at a time when the real economy has stabilised, unemployment is falling and exports are growing strongly. It would be irresponsible to follow the course of action the Labour Party has set out on bondholders given its potential to cause havoc to our economy.
I support this Private Members' motion. Listening to the Leader, one would think we lived in the land of milk and honey where everything runs free. The reality is Ireland has been completely abandoned by international investors since last April. No matter what the Leader may think, the Government has lost the complete confidence of the people. It does not matter whether it is the Kaiser or the King who gives us the money, Fianna Fáil has handed over this nation's sovereignty to others.
I visited the Department of Finance with Deputy Noonan and the Fine Gael finance team in the run-up to the IMF-EU intervention. There are officials from the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund monitoring our progress. The Leader would have read the same letters as I have and, therefore, knows regular update reports must be made to the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission. That does not sound like the workings of a sovereign nation. Fianna Fáil has caused this problem.
The 2011 budget is the beginning of several years of misery for the people. What will happen to the road network, local authority housing and business rates in County Wexford when its local authority budget is reduced by 30%? The same applies to every local authority. A young family on €40,000 a year will find themselves €25 worse off when the full budget measures come into effect. This budget will hit and hurt many families.
The next large issue to face this country will be mortgage repayment defaults if interest rates go up. I do not know if the Leader has a mortgage, but I am paying a 3.5% interest rate on mine. The Leader claims we are getting cheap money from the International Monetary Fund at 5.8% which will be used to bail out the banks. There is a small problem of a 2.3% difference between what mortgage holders are paying now and what they could be paying later next year which will hammer their ability to repay. The Government has stored up many problems for every individual in the country for next year and the following year. Individual Green Party Members of the Oireachtas need to be clear about what they said last month. Are they expressing no confidence in the Government? Will they walk away from it next month? Are they just playing games with the people? Senator Boyle might find it unusual that someone could be more despised than Fianna Fáil members of the Government, but its Green Party members are playing games with the people by saying they might review the position.
Will they pass legislation on climate change, the Dublin mayoralty election and other matters? Have they presented six items of legislation to the Government? Is Senator Boyle saying they will pass this legislation over a weekend in January, as well as the Finance Bill?
Senator Boyle should tell the people when we will have a general election because we need to get rid of the chaos and confusion. The people are getting angrier and also becoming fearful which is having a knock-on effect on their lives. The Green Party put itself in the position of moral guardian of whatever was happening in government.
As it has now lost confidence in the Government, it should step up to the plate and tell the people when they can expect a general election to be held. It should clear the timelines and let us get on with it because there is a need to turn the country around and provide strong leadership in the next four years. The Senator was his party's spokesperson on finance in the Lower House when I was my party's spokesperson on health. He understands the financial implications of budget 2011. He also understands it is nebulous when one examines all of the subheadings which indicate that millions of euro will be saved through administrative changes. There is obviously a problem with which somebody will have to deal next year. That process needs to be started quickly instead of being long-fingered for another three or four months.
When my party entered government in 2007, it did so knowing what had happened to smaller parties which had entered coalition Governments. The likelihood was that in the succeeding election it would see a reduction in the number seats and votes won because that had been the experience of all smaller parties in government. However, no one could have anticipated the depth of the change in our economic circumstances. We are also fighting a cartoon image, that somehow we lacked a degree of certainty, that we were not up to the challenge of being in government and that we would run away at the first obstacle. We had and still have a responsibility to ensure we will not walk away from whatever challenges face us in government.
The decision of my party a few weeks ago was based on the fact that circumstances had irredeemably changed and that because of this, a degree of certainty was required. There needed to be certainty concerning the budget, the negotiations with the European Union and the IMF, as well as the Finance Bill. It is necessary to overcome these obstacles to ensure the future economic health of the country. Once overcome, we said there would be certainty in terms of how the people would view the future governance of the country. I do not think they will see it in the black and white terms presented by some today. There will be a national debate which has been lacking for a long time.
We entered government in 2007 with knowledge of policies that, as the Senator rightly said, I criticised in the Lower House. I believed they would cause difficulties along the way, but they were voted on by the people. In addition, they had been mimicked by all political parties in the 2007 general election campaign. At the time the Labour Party was seeking tax decreases. The reality is that one makes a decision on the basis of how the people made their decision.
Everyone enters political life in the belief they may have an opportunity to serve in government, make changes and a difference. My party has sought to do so in the most difficult of circumstances. Despite this, we can point to concrete achievements in areas such as the renewable energy sector, for which the figure has doubled from 7% to 15%. Thousands of jobs have been created in the sector, one of the engines of the economy. Our policies also included a revamping of planning legislation. Because of the way it had been framed, it led us to the economic situation in which we find ourselves. We have also provided for changes to social legislation, including the Civil Partnership Act. We are glad we placed these matters on the legislative agenda and were happy to see the changes implemented.
We have placed a time limitation on our participation in government because the Finance Bill must be passed within a set time period. However, in that period other legislation can and will be passed. When the other House is debating the Finance Bill, we will have debating time in this House. When the Seanad is debating the Finance Bill, the other House will have debating time. There are possibly six to seven weeks available in which we want to see Bills passed dealing with climate change and corporate donations.
As regards the economic crisis, I have already expressed my unhappiness about the policies that preceded the entry of the Green Party into government. Regardless of what Government was elected in 2007, given the economic circumstances, we would have arrived at the same point because of the policies followed. It is due to a combination of wrong decisions being made and the ignition of the wrong international circumstances.
Senator Ross has referred to the situation in which we find ourselves internationally, but it is not unique. Iceland, Latvia and Hungary find themselves in the same position. Portugal and Spain are borrowing money at a rate of 7% on international money markets. Our level of debt was far higher, yet we were able to get out of the difficulty ourselves because we had an independent currency. The difference now is our membership of the single European currency, the trigger for these events. Despite this, my party in government has sought to make difficult decisions to get us out of this difficulty as quickly as possible. While acknowledging mistakes have been made, it has pointed to the road to recovery and tried to ensure it is done as fairly as possible. This means examining how we spend every penny, as well as how we raise revenue, because there are huge imbalances.
History cannot be written while one is in the midst of events, but I feel no shame and take some pride on behalf of my party in the fact that is has participated in government to make a difference. We have tried to deal with the most difficult set of circumstances any Government has had to face in the history of the State. Therefore, I will not be lectured by people who avoided making such decisions and who have made worse mistakes in government. This is our first experience of government and it certainly has been a baptism of fire.
When we have a national debate in a few months time, whatever the result may be, my party will be able to state it did its best and tried to be honest with the people. However, there will be considerable disappointments, particularly as the time available will be limited; in other circumstances a further 18 months would have been available.
In addition, I regret the fact that we have failed on the question of Seanad reform, something we have not been able to resolve in our participation in government. That is part of the national debate we need to have, but not in the populist way suggested by some in my party, as well as by those in Fianna Fáil and the leadership of Fine Gael. We need to have a conversation on the form and participation of government, the quality of public confidence in politics and the systems of government. If this election gets to that level and goes beyond the economic arguments we must have for our immediate future, then we can say this was an exercise worth having and we can inspire some hope and confidence in the future of this country.
On behalf of the Labour Party I support this motion of no confidence in the Government. Listening to Senator Boyle, I was struck by the tone of his delivery and I thought he was going to tell us about his sleepless nights, as his party leader has done. The Green Party walked itself into the straitjacket of government, as it has been described. There was an alternative in 2007 and the Green Party did not have to choose to prop up Fianna Fáil in power for what turned out to be more than 13 and a half years. Options were presented at the time. In 2007, in the run-up to the election campaign, Opposition spokespersons from the Labour Party and the Fine Gael, such as Deputies Joan Burton and Richard Bruton, pointed out the madness of building an economy on construction. They pointed out the over-reliance on the construction sector and the fact that far too many jobs were dependent on construction and far too much Government spending was dependent on the impermanent income derived from stamp duty. To suggest there was no alternative is to mislead.
I support this motion but there is no need for it because it is clear the majority of the people have lost all confidence in this Government. That is why it is clear that at the next election we will see a significant shift in the political landscape, with a distinct move away from the dominance of Fianna Fáil in Irish politics. Fianna Fáil figures have swooped as low as 13% and it is clear from the pattern of movement in the opinion polls that all confidence has been lost. Confidence has also been lost in the assurances we heard from the Minister for Finance and from the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, today. The expression of the view that we have come out of the worst rings hollow. That is why we will see a welcome change of government in the next election.
Let us not forget that Fianna Fáil has been in power for 13 and a half years without a break and, before that, for the vast majority of the past 20 years apart from the rainbow coalition. Let us not forget that when the rainbow coalition left office in 1997, with a Labour Party Minister for Finance, there was a budget surplus and the beginnings of a real boom. This should have been sustainable as a boom and instead it was directed into a bubble of property speculation brought about by Fianna Fáil in power. There is always a problem when one party becomes so closely associated with the State as Fianna Fáil has done. That brings about an arrogance, a staleness and a reluctance to bring in new policies. That does not excuse the intervention of the IMF, the ECB and the EU. It does explain, however, the sleepwalking of those in government and why they sleepwalked us into an abyss. They allowed the code words of light touch and principles-based regulation to mean, in effect, no regulation and allowed the economy to slide to the appalling state we are now in.
During the speech on the budget, the Minister for Finance asked what other parties would have done differently. Senator Boyle has taken up that theme. The Labour Party would not have continued the extensive tax breaks for property development and speculation that directly led to the development of ghost estates throughout the country and the reckless lending spree that brought down our banks and, with them, our economy. The Labour Party would have ensured less reliance on the shaky foundations of stamp duty as a source of State income. We would have sought a more sustainable job creation strategy not based so firmly on the construction sector. We know the boom was built on a bubble of property speculation. We knew that in 2007 and warnings were given, yet Fianna Fáil went ahead and bought the election, accusing opponents of talking down the economy.
One woman's interaction is another woman's interruption. That is heckling by any other name. I am happy to deal with that but I did not heckle Senator Boyle although I was severely provoked. It is a source of great national shame and humiliation that we brought in the IMF, the EU and the ECB. As Morgan Kelly said, we are now dependent on the kindness of strangers and they are not very kind strangers. The ECB and the EU have been far from kind to us. Their interest lies in sustaining the European banking system and the eurozone, not sustaining our economy. That is clear from the views they take in the memorandum of understanding and the projections provided. They are now pulling our strings and dictating our economic policy. No matter what fine words the Minister dresses it up in, that is the case. We have lost our national sovereignty and to what end. There is still no guarantee we will not ultimately default and international economists say we have kicked the can down the road with the four year plan and the budget. The markets still have no confidence in us and our growth forecasts have been revised downwards by the European Commission. Nevertheless, the Minister for Finance still seeks to talk up our prospects in his budget speech but people do not believe that any more. People have lost all confidence in him and in his assurances.
It is time we stepped out of the denial of the Government rhetoric and language and faced economic reality and the alternatives presented to us. The Labour Party has presented options and an alternative way to stimulate recovery. Rather than take €6 billion out of the economy in this budget, which the Labour Party believes is unsustainable and unjustifiable, €4.5 billion should be taken out now and money should be left aside to stimulate growth and promote recovery through the development of a strategic investment bank and what Deputy Joan Burton described as the three Rs, reflation, reform and redistribution. The Labour Party would not have sought to target the least well-off or those on social welfare in the obscene way this Government has done.
To cut social welfare rates by €8 per week, to cut disability benefit, to cut carer's allowances are appalling developments in any Government, especially a Government that includes the Green Party which has said it is about protecting the vulnerable.
There are more than enough reasons on the grounds of economic policy for us to have lost all confidence in this Government, but there are many other ways in which we have lost confidence in it, such as the failure to introduce legislation on climate change. We would all love to see that, Senator Boyle.
I look forward to it being passed. Not only has this Government failed on climate change, it has failed us on the children's rights referendum. In a week when we saw a lengthy sentence handed down to a serial abuser, we should remember that children's rights-----
I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the amendment moved by Senator Donie Cassidy and to express my full confidence in the Taoiseach and the Government. I will deal with some of the points made by Senators before making other points. Senator Ross appears to be on a crusade about default on the bondholders. That is a matter for him to explain because he has not explained very well how one would deal with the inevitable fall-out from it.
That is something we might hear at some time in the future. He is also very critical of the Government for having, as he said, allowed the banks to behave in a particular way. I infer from that he intends that the Government should have intervened in the system to ensure the banks behaved in a different manner. We could all pause to consider the inevitable consequences of political interference in that manner. There is no doubt that the system in place was weaker than it needed to be but the suggestion that there should have been direct political interference would lead to a situation that would be even worse than we face.
Simultaneously, in a turn of logic that defies explanation, the Senator is critical of the Government for having put former politicians on the boards of banks, some of whom were Fianna Fáil Ministers and leaders and Ministers of the Labour and Fine Gael parties. The logic of that runs completely counter to his claim-----
-----on what might have been done on the other hand. He also made a point about cronyism in terms of directors not giving evidence before Dáil committees. He, as well as everyone else in the House, is aware that there are a number of considerations on what it is appropriate for directors to do and whether to make themselves available.
I will move on to the much more difficult points made by Senator O'Toole. They have the advantage of being presented in reasonable and reasoned argument and they are much more difficult to deal with. Senator Boyle has dealt with the initial one about the involvement of the Green Party in government. I am prepared to accept what was said by him on that and the legislative list. I am sure Seanad reform will come in due course.
Senator O'Toole made the point very strongly about the information given by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform on the EU-IMF deal. When the Minister replied to the question, the Government had not given approval to enter into any negotiations on such a deal. The information he gave at that time was entirely correct.
If I had been asked I would have said exactly the same thing. It had not been approved at any stage by Government and until it was approved it was not under way.
Senator O'Toole made a point about the Fianna Fáil leadership. I have absolute confidence in the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, as leader of the party and leader of the country.
His final point related to the minimum wage. I was Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs when the previous three increases were made to the national minimum wage so I am very familiar with the process and with the arguments that were put forward at that time. When the final increase was recommended by the Labour Court major concerns were raised even at that time to the effect that the proposed increase was excessive. The case was made strongly to me by a number of interests. I was so concerned that I commissioned a report from the Economic and Social Research Institute which to a considerable extent supported the recommendation of the Labour Court. I went ahead and altered it by doing it in two stages over a longer period. The reality at this point is that virtually all employers, especially those who employ people at the lower end of the wage spectrum, are saying clearly that the level of the minimum wage as it stood was a disincentive to employment. They were also concerned at the difficulty created by the connection between the minimum wage and levels in other employments. For that reason it has been decided to reduce the minimum wage in an attempt to improve the level of employment.
Senator Cassidy outlined a number of points which I might have dealt with. I will deal with different ones for that reason. Senator Twomey raised the issue of sovereignty, which was also raised by Senator Ross. I have not heard anyone explain how no loss of sovereignty was involved in the decision to join the eurozone, which put an end to our own currency and the independence it brought. Neither was there any loss of sovereignty whatsoever in receiving billions of euro in European grants or in engaging in exactly the same level of borrowing on the markets we are engaging in with European institutions and the IMF.
When all of those issues are explained and the question of sovereignty is put in that context then I will begin to take some notice but in the meantime I can only reach the conclusion that it is a politically-----
Senator Twomey also cited the mortgage rate of 3.5%. I recall a time he would not remember when I had a single income with a family of four children and a mortgage rate of just over 16%. By that standard 3.5% seems modest.
Senator Boyle outlined the Green Party response to the challenges of Government. I accept the points he has made in that regard.
Senator Bacik made a fair point about the over-dependence on construction employment. Approximately 280,000 people were directly employed in construction at the end of 2007 and in early 2008. It should have been obvious that a continuation of employment in that sector would be difficult to sustain for a long period. However, any attempt to address that would have had, among its first consequences, a significant drop in that employment. It is a very difficult decision for a Government to take to decide to drive 100,000, 50,000 or whatever number of people out of employment at that time.
The policies of the time were driven by the realities of the time. Among the realities was two major Opposition parties arguing for a continuation of policies to keep up that level of employment, including the Labour Party.
At the time the policies of the Government on all of those issues were described as Scrooge-like by the two major Opposition parties. Light regulation is now criticised by the very parties which when I was Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs criticised me strongly for operating a nanny state in terms of the regulations that were in place.
I am not aware of any ghost estate that was built on foot of a tax break. Tax breaks were in defined areas which did not include the development of new estates. I distinctly recall during the previous election campaign when the auction politics was not led by the Government parties.
The promises that were made on the other side were ones that the Government was not able to reach. One of the reasons the election campaign turned around in the middle was that people realised that the promises being made by the Opposition parties were not deliverable-----
-----it was in terms of dealing with the issues of the moment. The final point made by Senator Bacik which appears to suggest that the alternatives currently are to choose between an adjustment of €6 billion or an adjustment of €4.5 billion, conveniently overlooks the fact that there are two options available to the State at this time. There is the €6 billion alternative which enables us to access the European and IMF funding and the €18 billion alternative which is the only other alternative currently available, of living within the means of the moment. That means living on the income available from taxation at this time, which is approximately €32 billion, implying an immediate reduction of €18 billion. Those are the options that are currently available.
An issue arises in terms of competitiveness. There is an enormous challenge for this country in terms of job creation. Although we always hear about the 430,000 on the live register, 280,000 in receipt of payments are unemployed full-time. Many more are employed part-time or fall into several other categories.
One of the challenges is presented by competitiveness. Since 2009 we have seen a 7% improvement in our unit labour cost relative to the remainder in the eurozone. This is one of the reasons the IDA and Enterprise Ireland have been more successful in attracting jobs; our export performance figure has increased by 7% this year, while productivity in the export sector has increased by 12% in a short period. In listening to some Senators' contributions one would be forgiven for assuming there was nothing positive to be said about Ireland or its economy. Ireland is ranked first under the heading of corporate taxes, fourth in respect of the availability of skilled labour, fourth in being open to new ideas, sixth in terms of labour productivity, seventh in the availability of financial skills and seventh in respect of the flexibility and adaptability of people.
For this reason, more companies, foreign direct investors and others are being attracted by the IDA than might have been the case otherwise. It is important, therefore, that we highlight the positives. Our competitors abroad, undoubtedly, want to highlight the negatives and have done so at all times. They did this during the good times; development agencies in other countries highlighted the high cost of employment in Ireland and a level of regulation that they considered made business and employment unsustainable. We have gone a long way in addressing these difficulties and are now No. 1 in attracting foreign direct investment and jobs. The four year plan targets a modest net increase of 90,000 jobs. The agencies and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation have set a target of 150,000 direct jobs and approximately half that number of ancillary and follow-on jobs by 2016. The 90,000 figure is at the bottom end of the scale.
I will refer briefly to another issue that has been dealt with by the Government, one that no Government of any hue or mixture would ever want to deal with, namely, the difficulties in the banking sector. It matters little whether the difficulties were caused exclusively by the banks' management and boards of directors or in part by light touch regulation. When the problem reached a point at which it could not be dealt with in the banking sector, the Government was first to make a call. If one wants to know more about this issue from an independent and qualified jury, one need only read the reports of Messrs Regling and Watson and Professor Honohan. They are long technical reports, but they bear reading. It is bad enough that few of their conclusions have been disseminated in the media, but relatively few elements have been disseminated in debate in the Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a great failure on the part of the Government, in that we did not disseminate the elements as effectively as we could have, but it is also a considerable failure on the part of the Opposition which aspires to being in government and will, undoubtedly, need to be guided by the principles clearly set out in the two reports which bear reading, consideration and debate.
The reports do a number of things. They confirm the need for an extensive guarantee and what none of us wanted to be the case, namely, that Anglo Irish Bank was of systemic importance at the time of the guarantee. They confirm that a bank failure would have been disastrous for the economy and that the timing of Anglo Irish Bank's nationalisation did not result in higher costs. They confirm that the substantial steps taken to address the main issues of regulation were correct. People are critical of the two Government parties. However, the Green Party has been part of a Government which has introduced a raft of changes, some of which I have dealt with in the Seanad, concerning the Central Bank and regulation, including the appointment of people like Professor Honohan and others. These are important moves-----
The conclusion that everything should have been left as it was for any new banking regime does not stand up to much scrutiny. Senator Bacik knows this as well as I do.
The reports highlight a number of mistakes. We have faced up to this fact, particularly in a number of speeches made by the Taoiseach and various Ministers in the Dáil. There were mistakes made in the system of taxation and in our reliance on a regulatory system that was exactly the same as that in place across western Europe and the United States of America. The practice of light touch regulation was international, not just national, and it did quite a bit of damage. Our banks depended to an extraordinary extent - far too much - on wholesale funding. That money was available at such low interest rates was a significant driver of the construction boom and other investment initiatives that had not been well thought out or solid in the long term.
With the benefit of hindsight, the management of individual banks was of an extraordinarily poor standard. Whether it was of the level that required intervention by the justice authorities is a question that remains to be resolved. At best, it was negligent and fundamental errors were made in individual banks. Regulatory controls were found to have been inadequate and have been replaced. The raft of new personnel brought in have considerable international credibility, but it is important to bear in mind that they also have a high level of credibility with the people.
One of the challenges for the political classes, in particular parliamentarians, is to establish credibility with the people, a fundamental tenet of democracy. While there are disagreements between various parties over style, the Opposition parties are making a serious mistake that they will rue if they are ever in government, namely, in thinking the Government does not have a mandate. The mandate of the Government is set out clearly in the Constitution and some legislative provisions. The Constitution sets out the way in which Members of the Parliament are elected, their role in choosing a Taoiseach, the role of the Taoiseach in choosing a Government and the Government's term. Any action taken by a legitimately elected Parliament in choosing a Taoiseach who picks a Government is legitimised by the Constitution and remains legitimate for the entire term of that Government.
In the not too distant future other parties might be in government and within a short period outside interests will accuse them of having reneged on the promises they made when in opposition. As it occurs every time, it is likely to happen next time. I have a particular concern that the erosion of the primacy of Parliament and the constitutional role of the Government which has been continuing apace and fuelled by the unhelpful statements of politicians, although not to the same extent as comments in the media, is a dangerous road to take. The Seanad is one of the Houses of Parliament to which the Government is responsible. Individual Members have a particular responsibility that needs to be differentiated from what commentators might choose to say in their contributions.
It has been a failure in the recent past - it was not the case when I first entered the Dáil 18 years ago - that we are now prepared to run with the fashion of the moment and, in so doing so, denigrate the role of Parliament and the constitutional role of the Government. Sometimes we lazily dispense with the responsibility of Parliament to hold the Government to account. We lay it aside and replace it with soundbite politics. The temptation to do this is considerable, as we all know what we need to say to receive coverage in the national and local media. That should not have primacy over our responsibility as parliamentarians to come forward and put as balanced a view as possible despite disagreeing fundamentally and philosophically with Members from other political parties. All of us have a level of responsibility as parliamentarians, which in my view is a sacred charge not always well discharged by myself, and sometimes very poorly discharged by some people. This is something we need to reflect on and consider where we stand.
We also have a responsibility to give people a relatively balanced view, while admitting that of course things might have been done better and perhaps even conceding that had the Opposition been in Government it might have done better. However, people should at least be given an overview which shows that ultimately the challenges we currently face in terms of the repayment of the debt at the worst level, in 2014, will be at about two thirds the level taxation was at in 1985, or perhaps even less, and to show the country has the capacity to deal with this. It will need to be shown, as the main Opposition party says, that if a €6 billion adjustment is addressed for the 2011 budget, that this helps rather than hinders in getting to the €15 billion that all the parties in this House agree with, and reaching the 3% target at that time.
The value of this is that it shows the real pain that the vast majority will experience over the next three years will have the result of returning the country to a stable economic situation while simultaneously delivering a level of growth in jobs, some of them in entirely new areas of the green economy, some in traditional areas and some, very significantly, providing opportunities for people who two years ago were earning large sums in the construction industry. Such people, in the event, have shown a capacity for work, and an ability to retrain and be among the best workforces in the world. We should not have to remind ourselves that this is the case, and we have the capacity to perform at least as well as anybody else.
I am pleased to support the amendment and to outline some of the steps the Government has taken to try to address, in as honest a manner as possible, the points made by the various Senators. There is a responsibility in these Houses of representation on behalf of the people, and it is one we should hold among the highest of considerations in a debate such as this.
Ar dtús báire cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, Deputy Tony Killeen. I am conscious that the Minister has given an excellent address and I compliment him on it, but if he was to be sincere, he would certainly not vote confidence in the Government of which he is a Member.
I am mindful of the fact that we have two famous slogans, "A lot done and more to do" and "The next steps", which were part of Fianna Fáil's auction politics in recent election campaigns. The Minister, in his address, spoke about soundbite politicians and his party's leader for many years was king in that regard. I agree with the Minister's comments as regards parliamentary democracy and the primacy of parliament, but former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern eroded parliamentary democracy and its primacy, as evidenced by the whole issue of social partnership whereby he bypassed these Chambers and did deals without coming into the Houses.
He further eroded the primacy of Parliament by not coming in on Thursdays, and again by making major announcements outside the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is one of the reasons I do not have confidence in the Minister's party in Government. I am mindful of the words of Abraham Lincoln in this regard that it is possible to fool some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time, and Fianna Fáil's time has come. This motion is not about personalities. It must not be about the personality of the leader, the lack of personality or whatever. It is about policy and it must be policy driven. That is why I have no confidence in this Government because its policies have failed profusely and profoundly.
To me this motion is about the economic collapse of the country. It is partly about the open warfare within Fianna Fáil, which Senator Ross and others have mentioned. It is about the IMF and the EU bailing us out. Its about the banks and the way they behaved, with the Government acquiescing. The job of Government is to govern, the job of the Regulator to regulate. Forget the light touch argument: the job of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance was to ask the Regulator what was happening in the banks and why it was not being dealt with. He did not do it and the Government turned a blind eye.
It is also about the fact that the Minister for Finance said, in effect, that the bank recapitalisation would be the cheapest deal in the history of the world. I wonder whether the Members opposite believe that now. To quote Crawford H. Greenwalt, president of the American corporation, DuPont, "The grab for a quick killing is the mark of the worst type of leadership, for it places immediate profits above the long-term interests of the people, and can lead ultimately only to disaster". That is a fitting testimony to the policies of Fianna Fáil in Government.
I ask my absent Green Party colleagues in this Chamber whether they have confidence in the Government and in the Fianna Fáil Ministers and Taoiseach. They are somewhat akin to the fellow who went to ride a bike in that he fell off, and half got on again. They are somewhat wobbly and have no stabilisers. They are at the door, half in, half out. Do they have confidence in the Government they signed up to three years ago? We are in the season of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the church, and it is a time of renewal. However, the only renewal this country needs is a change of Government, not for the sake of change, but to introduce better policies that will bring about more jobs.
I welcome the Taoiseach's eleventh hour apology today on radio. I am glad he apologised for the mismanagement of his Government and those of the previous Administrations of which he was a Member that let down the country. This Government has lost its authority. I do not believe for a second, however, that the country is banjaxed. I said today in the budget debate that although the country is broken, it can be fixed. We must have hope, vision and a change of Government because it is a question of confidence. Quite frankly, the people, na gnáth daoine, have no confidence in the Government or its policies.
Do not believe that the Government in charge now can reinvent itself to bring about change. Senator Ross is right in saying that part of what happened had to do with the whole issue of cronyism. I know all parties have done it, but Fianna Fáil could not wait in the stampede to fill State company boards.
The example of this is where we are today. I am referring to FÁS, CIE and the airports, which are a shambles, and it goes back to policy, not personality. The polices of the Government were wrong. It could not wait, the money kept flowing in and by God, it gave it out: benchmarking here, buildings there. Bertie called from Drumcondra and a few boys and girls were brought in here and there. They could not wait.
As Senator Feeney will appreciate, the problem I have is that it is about people. Look at the people who have emigrated, at those who have lost their jobs. I bet every Member has had e-mails, text messages and phone calls from carers, those on invalidity pensions, the widowed and those who cannot see. These are people who depend on the State to fund and look after them. It is the primary job of Government to look after them but this Government has not done so. It has also cut the minimum wage.
It was announced with great fanfare yesterday that the Taoiseach's salary is to be cut by €14,000 and that Ministers' pay will also be reduced. Big deal. The Taoiseach and Ministers can afford to take massive pay cuts but people on the minimum wage cannot. This must be about jobs and people.
While I welcome the eleventh hour conversion on the tourism tax, it should never have been introduced. In my view, it should have been abolished in yesterday's budget. There is no message of hope for people in negative equity or those with massive mortgages. More failed policy. I am surprised at the members of the former Progressive Democrats Party and members of the Green Party: they should know better. Confidence is about a chosen course of action that is the best and most effective. This Government has not pursued such a course.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Killeen, and thank him for his presentation. I am delighted to be associated with the amendment to Senator Ross's motion.
I was delighted to hear Senator Buttimer speak about the senior Labour Party politician who used the word "banjaxed" to describe our country. I thought when it was said that I was hearing things. This remark was made by someone who purports to call herself an Irish woman, a senior politician who believes she and the Labour Party have nothing to do but turn up on the day of the election and they will be elected to office. I have news for Deputy Burton. The Labour Party will have one hell of a fight from the current Government. I can only speak for my party, but when the election is called Fianna Fáil will be up for the fight.
I wondered where was Deputy Burton's sense of pride and duty in sending out that type of message to the international press. The Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, has always put the country first. He has never lost faith in our ability to come through this crisis. The Taoiseach and this Government have never given up or given in to populism or anger, although they understand the anger. Senator Buttimer is correct that this is all about people but anger is not a policy. The Government got more right than it got wrong. I am sick, sore and tired of hearing the Taoiseach being asked if he is going to apologise. There is nothing being said about his trying to fix the country; its all about when is he going to apologise, which is being driven by the media. I have heard the Taoiseach apologise on more than one occasion. I have heard him say that the Government got more right than it got wrong.
Mention was made earlier of the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael manifestos of 2007. One would have to put a fine tooth comb through each to find a difference between them. We all got it wrong in 2007.
Senator Ross's contribution was misleading. I will not take up my time going over the reason it was misleading but he was disingenuous when he said the average interest rate over five years is 5.8%. He knows as well as I that €17 billion of that funding is our own money and that we are getting €22 billion from the IMF. While the remainder is coming from Europe and is expensive, it may not all be drawn down. That is the reality. Through the measures being taken by this Government in budget 2011 we will get our credit worthiness back and will not need to draw down all of the money.
I was appalled by the depths to which Senator Ross stooped when he spoke about the Government appointing cronies to boards. The people concerned include former Deputies Dick Spring, Alan Dukes and Ray MacSharry, Mr. Mike Soden, Mr. Michael Somers and others. Senator Ross has a cheek to make fun of and accuse men who have served their time as politicians in these Houses of being Government cronies. Shame on Senator Ross. I am sure if future Governments call on him, because of his expertise in economics and finance, to become a member of a board he will not refuse to take up such a position because he might be viewed as a Government crony. Shame on Senator Ross. I am surprised. I have always had the height of respect for Senator Ross but, in my opinion, he stooped to an all time low today. Are Government appointees to the Judiciary also cronies? Is it cronyism when these people deliver judgments? I fear the Senator's response in that regard.
Senator Bacik spoke about Fianna Fáil buying the last election. What an insult to the Irish electorate.
I was referring to Senator Bacik's comment that Fianna Fáil bought the election. That was the most insulting thing anybody could say to the electorate. Obviously, an election cannot be bought and we all know that. The Mullingar accord of 2007 did not strike the right accord between the two main Opposition parties. I will issue a word of caution. They should not be too smug thinking that they will walk into office with their eyes closed. The election is planned for the new year and when it is called my party - I do not know about our partners in government - will be up for one hell of a fight. We will be out there to win the next election. In the fallout from yesterday's budget, Fine Gael and the Labour Party are poles apart. All does not look too well for them.
One of the drivers in tabling the motion was that Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party members did not support the Taoiseach. In many ways, it is easy to understand when Opposition Members read about an attempted coup against him, but I totally and utterly disapprove and disagree. It is painful to feel and know people are threatening his leadership at this time of national crisis. Our members have to face up to the fact that if the message is that members of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party have no faith in the leader, naturally people will wonder why we should have faith in the Government when party members do not have faith in their leader. The Taoiseach is, unequivocally, the best person to lead us forward in the next general election. I have put my cards on the table and spend my time persuading my colleagues that he understands the financial situation.
I have no personal relationship whatsoever with him.
I refer to two issues dear to my heart - business and the peace process. Our competitiveness has improved dramatically in the past few months because of the cutbacks in the public sector, etc. It is our responsibility, as politicians, to inspire hope in the people. We have the youngest population in Europe with one in three aged under 25 years and the highest proportion of graduates in the 25-34 year age group in the European Union. Exports have increased by 7% and Ireland's stock of inward investment is five times greater than the OECD average. Surely a Fianna Fáil Government which supports 1,000 multinational companies in Ireland, including IBM, Google, eBay, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft, has given the right signals internationally to encourage other blue chip multinationals to invest here. I commend Albert Reynolds and Deputy Bertie Ahern on their tremendous achievement in bringing peace to the island.
The three good reasons I have asked Senator Feeney to share time are I wish to express support for the Taoiseach in leading us into the general election, highlight the need to improve competitiveness and the stability engendered by the Government to send a message around the world that Ireland is a place in which to do business and point to the peace process in Northern Ireland. I thank the Senator for allowing me two minutes in the sun.
The only comment on which I can agree with my colleague and friend, Senator Mary White, is that the Taoiseach has clearly demonstrated that Ireland is a place in which to do business. If one wants to rape a country, get every available asset and screw the people to the wall, it is a case of "Come on in, the shop is open," because that is what has happened under this Administration.
I take no pleasure in saying I do not have any confidence in the Government. I am an Independent and like to think I have friends in all parties. I supported the Government parties when I thought it was right and criticised them when I thought they were wrong. I said I believed they were on a wrong track from the beginning of the economic crisis and that I also hoped I was wrong and that the Minister for Finance was right because what is important to me is the best thing for the country. I have always tried to make it a principle in politics that I want to win an argument on my strengths, not on the weaknesses of others. I have not counted the number of mistakes because that would be mean, petty and silly and I do not care whether one side or the other made fewer mistakes. However, the mistakes have been absolutely catastrophic.
This House is a microcosm of the situation because it is unbelievably badly run. We have just had another example of this with the Leader standing up and not knowing where his authority ran or whether he would be contradicted from the clerk's desk and nobody knowing what would happen.
The cameras never lie and I might rely on photographic evidence, but I will not be sidetracked.
Look at what happened the other day when I wanted to have the House adjourned under Standing Order 30. In the aftermath of the memorandum of understanding through which the Government sold out in the most unconscionable way, I was told it was not a matter of national urgency.
That was patently absurd and I happen to know that that decision did not come from the Cathaoirleach. That is an abrogation of democratic principles in this House. Is it any wonder the people have given up on Fianna Fáil? The party is at 13% in the polls.
I will withdraw it, but I will not withdraw the comment that Fianna Fáil is at 13% in the polls. It might be a pity. The Senators opposite are decent and good people, but 87% of the public do not seem to have much confidence in the party.
I do. Senator Mary White has said people are wondering if Fianna Fáil party members do not have confidence in the leader. How can they? It is not a question of confidence in the Government. People do not have confidence in the Government because it has done exactly what I said would happen almost three years ago when it started to disable every organisation which had tried to speak out on behalf of the vulnerable and the marginalised. I refer to a letter I received. I am not unique in receiving this kind of letter. It reads:
I've been up all night pacing the floor and running the figures from the budget yesterday. Our family holds a medical card. My husband is a PAYE worker, I am receiving a social welfare benefit and we have 1 child.
Medical Card holders were exempt from paying the Health Levy & Income Levy until the Budget yesterday. The Revenue Commissioners have confirmed that Medical Card holders will NOT be exempt from paying the Universal Social Charge.
I have calculated that our income, come 1 st January 2011, will be reduced by 9% or approximately €68 per week. We had been prepared to take a reduction of our income but this figure is devastating. We must prioritise light, heat, food on the table and fuel, insurance & tax for the car so my husband can get to his work which is not served by public transport.
To put this into perspective this will make the difference between us being able to meet the mortgage repayments in full or falling into arrears. The amount is the equivalent for my grocery budget on a weekly basis. Our child benefit right now is redirected towards light, heat & food. I have never been in the position where I can go out and spend it on my 2 year old.
That is what happening in the country. How can a woman like her be expected to have confidence in the Government when this is what it has done to her? I do not say it was done deliberately and I am not counting the mistakes made, but we are dealing with the results.
Did anybody watch "The Week in Politics" programme a week ago and see the shot scanning the Front Bench in the Dáil and the devastation on the face of every Minister? Another visual image was the faces of the people in the audience on "The Frontline" programme with Pat Kenny, many of them from Fianna Fáil stock. They are devastated.
That is what President Clinton said, because that is where the living heart of public life is. However, people are being put to the pin of their collar while they see fat-cat bankers and other individuals trading on our gullibility.
I wish to say something which my friends in Fianna Fáil have also said. Perhaps some of the Members present will pick up on it. I regularly hear people on television saying we did this and that and that we over-indulged. No, I did not and I know many others who did not. We behaved prudently and decently. However, we are being presented not with our own bills but with those that imprudent, foolish and criminal bankers ran up. They did not run them up in Ireland's name but in the names of their banks. One of the biggest mistakes we made was to give them a guarantee, without even ascertaining its extent. I remember asking at the time how the Government could give a blank cheque and how much was involved. The Government stated it was €440 billion. When I asked how much was the value of our gross national product, it did not know and had to go and make a telephone call. Does that not indicate the incompetence of the Government? I pains me to say I do not have confidence in it and I believe only 13% of the people do.
Senator O'Toole made a fine contribution in which he addressed the issues of confidence and whether and why we would vote confidence in the Government. It was a measured contribution. His strongest point was about the Taoiseach and how he had performed in the past ten days, in particular. He said, in effect: "Show me a person on any side of the Dáil who would do a better job and has a better command of what is happening." I would welcome seeing all of the party leaders debate the budget.
That is the Senator's opinion. All of the party leaders should engage in a debate on the budget. We would then see who really does and does not understand economics.
In response to Senator O'Toole's remarks, I am happy to vote confidence in the Government. The person who knows about and is in complete command of what is happening is the Taoiseach. He has a supreme command of the situation. No more than anyone else, he is not happy that we are in the current situation, but, given that we are in it, we need somebody who fully understands and knows economics. At a dangerous time such as this, I am glad he is in that position.
I also listened with interest to Senator Bacik's contribution and a point she has made on previous occasions. It is contemptuous. She has lamented the fact that Fianna Fáil has been in government so often, as if the public is making a mistake in electing the party. This flies in the face in democracy. As everybody knows, we have a general election, the results are accumulated and a Government is formed. It is up to the people to vote and it is not for Senator Bacik to decide that the people have got it wrong. She laments the fact that Fianna Fáil managed to win the last election. That is what happens - one goes to the country, gives one's best performance, comes back with the numbers and forms a government. What will happen in the next election is important. I agree with Senator Feeney. The Opposition should take care in thinking it has it won already because every seat will be contested.
A measure of what is happening and how the Government is doing the right thing is the fact that popular support is evaporating. Who likes to take sweets from children or money from people who want it, have earned it and are entitled to it? I hope that when the election campaign starts, the public will realise that being in government in difficult times is not popular. The opinion poll does not matter; what matters is the poll on polling day. During the election campaign people will recognise that Fianna Fáil and the Government have acted honourably. They have looked at and learned from the past and decided to take swift measures to remedy the situation. As was said in the debate earlier today, the fundamentals of the economy are good. If we did not have the banking problem, we would be more or less moving in the right direction. However, it is utterly contemptuous of Senator Bacik to give out to the people, the electorate, for electing the Governments they have elected in the periods concerned.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach mo bhuíochas a ghabháil don Seanadóir O'Malley as ucht seans a thabhairt dom labhairt inniu.
We heard about the look on the faces on the Front Bench in the Dáil when it was discussing one of the most serious issues facing the country. That type of comment typifies some of the debate in recent times. When there was no recession, if the camera had picked out some of the faces in this House, I doubt that they would have made the cover of Hello magazine. However, is that what democracy is about, making comments about facial expressions and body language? I would like to think we take this issue far more seriously.
I compliment Senator Ross. He made an important contribution to financial probity in this country, for which he deserves credit. Likewise, Senator O'Toole made a major contribution to industrial peace in the country. The proposer and seconder of the motion are a fine mix of capitalism and socialism.
To return to the comment made on the Front Bench in the Dáil, I wish to comment on the Taoiseach. We have the right leader at the right time. Anybody who has watched the Taoiseach will have seen the manner in which he has absorbed not the criticism about policy but the personal abuse directed at him from the first hours he took office, even before the recession. One of the reasons such personal abuse was directed towards him was that he was not prepared to champion perception as opposed to reality. He was not prepared to play the cosmetic game which the media appeared to require from him. I say that in defence not just of the Taoiseach who is an astute and intelligent man and an honourable patriot but also on behalf of any other leader who might emerge from any other party in the future. It is important for the body politic not to take succour from the personal abuse meted out to the leader of the country.
A time will come when a motion will be tabled in this House to express confidence in the people, their spirit, nationalism and tenacity, to overcome these difficulties. I feel the motion, possibly put down with the right intention, may be tinged just a little with political expediency. I believe it is the product of a negative environment that is prevailing at the present time.
When this debate is over and the vote has taken place, I hope the Leader will do all in his power to give us the opportunity to have a realistic, positive and patriotic debate on the future of this country. The people outside who are angry, worried, are suffering and feel threatened-----
The Minister posed an interesting question in the course of his speech about legitimacy and the question of the Government's mandate. He bemoaned the fact, as he saw it, there had been some questioning from the Opposition, the media and elsewhere, on whether the Government had a mandate. He thought it was unfortunate and wrong that a question should be raised over the constitutional mandate of the Government. I make it clear to the Minister and others that at no time have I ever taken the view, notwithstanding that I have stood here alone with my colleagues and voted against the bank guarantee, took a view on NAMA and voted against it, took very conflicting standpoints on different Government decisions, and at no stage------
He cannot even listen to people. Even when he does listen, he does not understand the point. The Minister understands the point, in contrast to Senator Cassidy. The Minister is an intelligent individual, in contrast to the nonsense that the Leader comes out with. The Minister bemoaned the risk that Parliament would be undermined, and I think he is right in that. I was shaping up to agree with his point that this is a danger. However, I have never questioned the constitutional mandate of the Government, and the Minister is absolutely right that a constitutional mandate for any Government subsists until the night the Taoiseach dissolves the Dáil.
It does not mean that one cannot say that the Minister for Finance and the Government have banjaxed the economy. These criticisms can be made. It does not mean for one minute that a person is questioning the constitutional mandate of the Government. However, when we look at the erosion of the legitimacy of the Government, the Government really only has itself to blame. First, it has failed to tell people the truth. There is nothing that can undermine legitimacy and belief of the public in its Government more than not being told the truth, and it has not been told the truth. Leaving aside the debacle involving the two Ministers, Deputy Dermot Ahern and Deputy Noel Dempsey, the people have not been told the truth again and again by the Minister for Finance. We have an emperor's new clothes problem with the Minister for Finance. Everybody wanted to believe him when he took office. Everybody admired him and said he was a great communicator. I even wanted to believe that things were as good as he suggested they were, but they were not. Over and over again, he misrepresented the position, whether it was turning corners or anything else, and people lost faith and he cannot be believed.
Senator Feeney came in here and tried to say there was smugness on this side of the House. The greatest exponents of smugness I have seen since I came in here are right over there in the chairs she and her colleagues are sitting in. I listened to Senator Feeney say something before that was very telling and is reflected in her attitude again this evening. In the course of one of the battles that was going on across the floor, she was told that she would be in Opposition some time, to which she responded, "a fate worse than death". That is a very interesting reflection on the attitude of Fianna Fáil to being in Opposition. It is on the record, because I checked it.
-----that she and the members of her party have, that nobody else can be in Government except Fianna Fáil. They think they must be in Government. That is the problem. Why cannot they have the smallest bit of humility? The Minister talked about legitimacy and about people's belief in Government. Sometimes Governments have to take the view that they need to leave office in order to maintain legitimacy in the system. Senator Feeney might sigh-----
They know all about it because they invented it. The criticism of Senator Bacik to the effect that she is questioning the mandate of the Government is nonsensical. Do we say when we lose an election that we suspend all powers of criticism? If we lose an election, do we have to go away and die? I hope that when Fianna Fáil loses the election, they will take an honourable position in Opposition, that they will see it is an important place and they will not seek to contribute further to the undermining of democracy by thinking they cannot even exist if they are not in Government. They should try it out some time. It is not that bad. It is part of the way the system works. Legislation is scrutinised and the Government is called to account. This is a very important part of the legitimacy that the Minister referred to earlier. Senator Feeney, Senator O'Malley and others need a lesson on how democracy works. It is not all about being in Government all the time and it is not a fate worse than death to be over here.
The Taoiseach will not only have to give a bombastic performance on the "News at One", but will have to justify what he did and did not do when he was Minister for Finance, what he did and did not do during the worst economic crisis this country has ever faced, and he will be called to account by the people for the disaster he created and for the fact he did banjax the economy.
The most notable characteristic of this debate has been the guerilla warfare from the Fianna Fáil benches. I presume they will be able to indulge themselves a lot more in this in the months to come, but from this side of the House.
I have been disappointed with this debate. I have been disappointed with the fact that I have not noticed a particularly sturdy defence being put up by the Fianna Fáil benches for the governance of this country over the last three and a half years. I noticed that Senator Cassidy disappointingly read his speech. That is out of order in this House. It is something we should not tolerate from the Leader of the House. I notice that the Minister did not read his speech, and to be honest, it might have been better if he had done so.
The Minister was very keen on giving us a lecture on banking. I am grateful to the Taoiseach for the fact that the limit of the Minister's ambitions appear to be the Department of Defence, because the Minister does not know an awful lot about banking. Senator Cassidy knows more about banking but that is because he read it from a script. The Minister said something interesting. He said that if we had interfered with what was happening in the banking sector, that would have been political interference. God forbid that a Fianna Fáil Minister should indulge in political interference in anything that was none of his business. Perhaps the Minister does not know - he is only Minister for Defence, the most junior of Cabinet Ministers - that the Government appoints the board of the Central Bank.
Does he not know that the Government appoints cronies to the board of the regulator? Does he not know that? Does he not know why or on what criteria they are appointed? Does the Minister not know that one of the greatest abuses in this country is the cronyism to which he refused to respond, except to say that if the Government did that, it would be guilty of political interference? The hallmark of this Government on all semi-State boards is political interference. That is one of the problems and one of the reasons it should not be in office.
The Minister cannot tell me Fianna Fáil is not guilty of cronyism. It has consistently over the years appointed those whose loyalty is to Fianna Fáil and nothing else, whose primary loyalty is to a party and not to the nation. The Minister cannot tell me it has appointed people who are members of Fine Gael. Occasionally it throws in the odd token Fine Gael or Labour person. The Green Party has learned the tricks from Fianna Fáil and now its people are being appointed as a sop here, there and everywhere. The Minister cannot talk to me about political interference, the Government does it all the time.
When Fianna Fáil did get its hands on the banks, and the Minister did not answer this question, it put its own people in there, people who had few qualifications to be on the boards of banks but had great loyalty to Fianna Fáil.
That is what Fianna Fáil is good at and that is why Fianna Fáil should be out of office. It has been in power for too long. There are semi-State companies in this country, FÁS being one of them, which are political protectorates of Fianna Fáil. That is one of the reasons the party is unsuited to be in office. CIE is a political protectorate of Fianna Fáil. Let us look at the boards of these bodies. I can name them, and that is what they are.
Fianna Fáil has appointed its own people whose loyalty is to one Taoiseach or Minister and not to the country.
The Minister then comes to this House and says to me there are reasons I can understand why boards of State bodies cannot give evidence to Oireachtas committees. I do not know those reasons and I ask the Minister to explain them to me. I will give him one minute of my time now to explain them to me.
Yes, but I am asking him a question and offering him the opportunity to answer me. With the agreement of the House, I would like to offer the Minister the chance to tell me why the boards of these bodies will not come to explain themselves.
No explanation for this cronyism is being offered. The only explanation is because they will spill the beans on how the semi-States are being run in the interests of Fianna Fáil and not in the interests of the nation. That is the explanation and Fianna Fáil will continue to make these appointments. We can look forward in the next few weeks to several appointments of this sort before these guys leave office. That will happen, but not under the radar, which is the Fianna Fáil ambition.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 30 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ann Ormonde, Ned O'Sullivan, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 22 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Joe O'Toole and Shane Ross.
Amendment declared lost
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 30 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 22 (Ivana Bacik, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Fidelma Healy Eames, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Reilly, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Niall Ó Brolcháin and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Joe O'Toole and Shane Ross.
Question declared carried