REBUILDING the economy will be a medium rather than a short-term task and there will be further casualties along the way, Taoiseach Brian Cowen has indicated.
Speaking at a Dublin Chamber of Commerce function in Dublin last night, Mr Cowen said the question was not whether the recession would end, but whether the country would be ready to capitalise on the recovery when it came.
“We’re going to come through it. Recessions end,” he said. “The question is are we going to be in the best position we can possibly be to pick up, or are we going to prolong recession and defer opportunity because we weren’t prepared to defer decisions... we know in our heart of hearts we have to take now based on the figures that are in front of us?”
Mr Cowen made a similarly passionate speech to a chamber function this time last year in which he urged people not to give into defeatism. That speech subsequently drew withering scorn from the Opposition, which claimed the Government lacked a strategy to support either businesses or jobs. But Mr Cowen continued with the theme last night in a speech that focused on the medium-term and looked ahead to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016.
He said the Government would provide circa €40bn for capital investment in areas such as science research and education between now and then. Invoking the spirit of the Rising leaders, he called for a “can-do, win-win” attitude and insisted the Government would continue to take tough but necessary decisions. That way, “we can say in 2016 when we get to O’Connell Street and look up to those men and women of ideas who’ve given us a chance to be the country we are: ‘Yes, we didn’t fail our children, but most importantly, we didn’t fail our country either’”, he said.
He implored the public and private sectors to cooperate rather than clash, saying the country needed to come through the crisis as “one community” rather than a “divided community”.
“This country is too small for those sorts of phoney confrontations… As citizens we have an obligation to pull together in times of difficulty,” he added.
Public services had to be improved, but there was also a need for a more competitive private sector to help replace some of the 130,000 jobs lost in the last 12 months, he said. Addressing the 495 or so business figures present, Mr Cowen acknowledged more enterprises would fail in the coming months. “As we come out of [recession], there will continue to be casualties... But we also have to be clear that while there will be business casualties, there are also many who have viable but vulnerable businesses… who with the right type of assistance [can] come through this recession.”
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