ANN CAHILL: Ministers make case for billions to create jobs

Complex plans to raise billions of euro to fund projects and create jobs have been outlined to the European Investment Bank and European Commission.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin hope to overcome the problems of having no money in the coffers and broke banks.

They went with a list of public-private partnership projects and schemes to get around the constraints imposed on the country by the austerity programme.

They hope to leverage “several billions of euro” to put with the €17bn the Government already has for capital projects that will include schools, health centres, and infrastructure.

Mr Howlin said the ideas will form part of the discussions at the growth and jobs summit in Brussels next month, where it is hoped all leaders will agree with French president François Hollande to add a growth strategy to the fiscal treaty.

The ministers believe they have convinced the troika to allow half of the money — rather than the one third agreed — from the €3bn raised from the sale of state assets to put into projects.

They want to hold on to the other half as well to help raise money from the EIB, using the fund as a kind of insurance, since the country has no triple-A banks that would normally be used in this instance.

The country would normally act as guarantee for the EIB, but the amount borrowed would go on the balance sheet, adding to the national debt, which will soon approach 120% of GDP. So the ministers have been looking for means to access funds, but keep the debt off the State’s books.

Mr Howlin said they got a very positive response from the EIB and talks would continue.

They have also come up with a Dragon’s Den-style idea to get as much money as possible from the unspent EU structural funds. There could be up to €85bn available but the country has set its sights on getting more than a 1% pro rata share.

They propose that countries in bailout programmes and those with high youth unemployment should compete for funding for projects. The idea will be up against ideas to be put forward by European Commission president José Manuel Barroso at next month’s summit.

Mr Howlin said the total amount of money that would be available was not yet known, as this would depend on the EIB and commission.

“The whole idea of the programme is to get back to the markets as quickly as possible, and all three members of the troika are supporting that,” said Mr Howlin, expressing confidence that they would support the various schemes.

“We have put together a package to use state assets, our own pension reserve fund, monies we hope we can leverage from domestic funds, and we have had discussions with the pension industry in Ireland on that, while we hope to benefit from private sector funds.”

He said they were determined to roll out projects this year, and plan to roll out more over time, ensuring they get best-value and viable projects under way.


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