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Cowen should wipe the party slate clean and give country a fresh start

AFTER a period of some 30 years of being governed by Taoisigh who were either inept or corrupt, or both, the advent of Brian Cowen as head of government is to be warmly welcomed.

As a first step towards allaying rampant cynicism regarding politics and politicians in general, Mr Cowen should take steps to distance himself from the present incumbent and from those sycophantic cabinet colleagues whose strident defence of the indefensible, as they tried to persuade us their emperor really had clothes, has brought disrespect for ministerial bumbling to an all-time low.

Brian Cowen trails no clouds of corruption. One can understand and believe what he says and there is a general expectation at this time of economic uncertainty and unrest that his will be a steady hand on the tiller.

And seldom during the past 30 years have we had so much need of a steady hand and a clear head. After a short period of unprecedented affluence in a country little used to wealth, during which the Government and the populace in general spent money with profligate abandon, the time of reckoning has come. Many of the problems now are due not to external factors, but rather to mismanagement of the economy over the last 10 years or so.

The present clamour from the trade unions is because of too-generous wage and benchmarking agreements which have resulted in a public service pay bill the economy cannot sustain, inflated wage expectations and a lack of price competitiveness leading to loss of jobs. Most of us are paid too much for the work we do anyway.

For once, the Government must take a firm stand and resist the usual trade union blackmail. The wage bill for the public sector needs to be frozen for the next three years. The higher paid, whether in the public or private sectors, should in their turn be encouraged by the threat of serious tax hikes to accept reductions in obscene incomes, and the less well off should be looked after with appropriate fiscal arrangements.

Can one contribute any further to the denunciation of our so-called health services? A complete reorganisation of the public service is necessary in order to deliver value for taxpayers’ money.

In this regard, the hundreds of quangos and advisers who have proliferated under the present regime should be ruthlessly pruned. What function, for example, does the Central Bank, the Financial Regulator or ERSI fulfil any longer? Let the civil service serve.

Many of the myriad problems in our schools, jails, hospitals and social services stem from a laissez faire approach to immigration which, if left unchecked, will have dire consequences for social cohesion and public safety in the very near future.

Justice Minister Brian Lenihan’s bill is a belated but nevertheless welcome realisation of the situation as it really is and of the mistakes of his two predecessors in office: too many immigrants of disparate backgrounds and irreconcilable cultures, and an unbearable burden for future generations to carry.

The money spent on housing and maintaining bogus asylum seekers, and in defending associated court cases, would be better spent in trying to integrate the disaffected members of our own community in Limerick, Cork and Dublin. We have more than enough criminals of the homegrown variety. We can’t take on and hope to solve the problems of Africa, too.

Of late we have allowed dictation from capitals such as Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Peking to direct our foreign policy, as can be seen in our decision to recognise the independence of Kosovo and in our complete silence regarding independence for Tibet.

In more straitened times, de Valera acted with statesmanship and courage in taking a stand against external bullies in defence of the national interest and of the principles of international justice. We should try at least to reclaim the higher moral ground which earned us respect in former years as an honest broker on the world stage.

I realise that it is asking a lot of our incoming Taoiseach to engage meaningfully with these and other pressing national problems, but given his ability and drive, I am confident he will do so.

Niall Ó Murchadha

An Spidéal

Co na Gaillimhe


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