PRIVATISING semi-state companies in order to raise desperately-needed cash for the Exchequer would be like “selling off the family silver”, the country’s most senior union leader has said.
David Begg, the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said such a move would be counter-productive. He was reacting to the announcement by the Government that it is establishing an expert group to “assess the scale and value” of the semi-states.
While the Government insists this is a prudent “stock-taking” exercise, it hasn’t ruled out selling some of the semi-states – a move which could potentially raise billions and reduce the need for tax hikes and spending cuts.
But Mr Begg said such a move would send out a terrible signal abroad. “It’s a little bit like hanging a sign on the country... saying: ‘Fire sale here.’ It gives a terrible message externally as to the state of the country... We’ve had so much erosion of our indigenous industrial base – in the banks particularly – that the good stuff that is working well, I think we need to hang on to and enhance and develop.
“It doesn’t even make basic economic sense in the middle of a recession to sell off assets when the market would be so bad.
“I’d say most people would see it as just: ‘They’re off selling the family silver’.”
Similar comments were made by Labour TD Joe Costello. He said that while the party didn’t object to a stock-take, “we would have serious concerns about any move by the Government to sell semi-state companies”.
“The track record of the present Government is pretty bad – we saw what happened to Eircom,” he added. “It’s now shedding more jobs having created huge debts and providing a bad service.”
But Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar, writing in this paper today, argues a sale of some semi-states would be a good move provided certain conditions are met. “To improve our infrastructure, we must invest billions in broadband, green energy, water services, roads and railways . Some of the money can come from the sale of state assets that we do not need,” he adds.
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