No change as Cowen spouts more of the same

BRIAN COWEN dropped the word “patriotic,” but otherwise, we could have been back in 2008.

In October that year, the Government brought forward the budget as an emergency measure and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan told the Dáil that it was “no less than a call to patriotic action”.

Two years on, it was a case of spot the difference when the Taoiseach rose to his feet to kick-start the two-day debate on the economy.

The four-year plan to cut the deficit which the Government will publish next month would, he said, “be a call to action for our entire economy and society”.

How many times can the Government say roughly the same thing? Such as that a corner has been turned, or the worst is over, only for further bad news to emerge? It was, therefore, no surprise that the Opposition zeroed in on the Government’s credibility.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said “depression, anxiety, concern and fear stalk the land” because of the “Government’s catastrophic failure” on the economic front.

“The Government cannot be believed and has no credibility or truth left,” he added, referring to the coalition forecasts which turned out to be wrong.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore questioned the Government’s latest projections. According to those projections, the Government will have to cut €15bn over the next four years in order to reach the target of cutting the deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014. As a first step, the Government says it will “frontload” the December budget in order to demonstrate it is serious about the task and reassure the money markets on whom we’re dependent to keep the country going.

Both Fine Gael and Labour accept the 2014 target, but not the €15bn figure. Part of the reason why is that, while both parties want to be seen as fiscally responsible (hence acceptance of the 2014 target), they don’t want to be seen to be supporting the Government in any way, shape or form (hence the lack of support for the €15bn figure). The Opposition has no intention of sharing the blame for the savage cutbacks and extra taxes that the Government will introduce in the budget.

Instead, the Opposition will come up with their own proposals on how to cut the deficit. In that respect, little new came from Mr Kenny yesterday — for the most part, he reiterated the long-standing Fine Gael policies which his party would seek to implement if returned to power.

Mr Gilmore, however, did flesh out Labour’s stance on several issues, offering more detail than previously — possibly because the allegations of him sitting on the fence were beginning to sting. He suggested a 50:50 ratio of new taxes to spending cuts. He said a voluntary redundancy scheme was necessary in the public sector. He proposed increasing the tax on second homes. And he called for the capital spending programme to be cut by €2.5bn over three years.

But of course, barring the collapse of the coalition, neither Fine Gael nor Labour will be framing the budget. The Government will. And Mr Cowen chose to avoid getting into specifics yesterday. Instead, he spoke in the generalities we seem to have been hearing forever.


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