BRIAN COWEN has dismissed the economic credentials of the opposition parties in the Dáil this morning, while Fine Gael and Labour roundly slammed the measures introduced in yesterday’s Budget.
Defending the Budget’s moves to cut social welfare for the second year running, Cowen said Labour, he said, wanted to double the income tax take under their own Budget, which would have left the standard income rate at 22% and the higher rate at 45%, while Fine Gael was happy not to introduce any new taxes. Reconciling those positions for an alternative Budget, was impossible.
“However, it is the responsibility of those holding elected office to focus their energy on the future – to take action to solve the problems facing the people who elect us,” Cowen said, adding:
Looking back, I doubt that any Government has acted so decisively and with such energy in a short period of time, or done so much political heavy lifting.
“It must be clearly understood that, if we are to be in a position to borrow to maintain our public services, State pensions, unemployment benefits, our schools, our hospitals, and to pay those who work in them, we must adhere strictly to the agreed parameters of the National Recovery Plan.”
FF’s Damascus moment
Enda Kenny, however, tore into criticisms of his own party’s proposals, saying Cowen could not assert that FG policies were unsustainable, as they had been costed by the Department of Finance upon the Taoiseach’s own invitation.
“It is humiliating for a proud country to be placed in a position like this through incompentence,” Kenny said, though insisting that Ireland should not despair at its future.
This is a time for a change of emphasis, a change of motivation, a change of rejection – to galvanise our people and rise to meet this challenge as we can, as we have in the past.
Kenny told Cowen and his cabinet that “the best and finest service that you and your ministers could render now is to allow the people give a new government a fresh and a clear mandate.”
The Fine Gael leader – who has proposed the abolition of the Seanad if Fine Gael ascends to power – remarked on rumours that the government had considered running a referendum on getting rid of the Upper House alongside the general election.
“That’s some conversion on the road to Damascus,” Kenny remarked.
New ‘old reliables’
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the Taoiseach typified the government’s “arrogance” of “never admitting a mistake, never saying sorry”.
That arrogance was brought to a new level today, Gilmore said, saying that the government had made a “most calamitous mistake” in handling the banking crisis, but had refused to admit any sense of wrongdoing.
The government “was fortunate that there was so much snow for the last week or ten days,” Gilmore said, saying that the bailout agreement would have been torn apart by public scrutiny otherwise. ”Taoiseach, you’re going to fight this election on you’re miserable record.
In times gone by, we used to talk about the old reliables, being excise duties on beer and cigarettes. Today, the old reliables are the tax breaks that Fianna Fáil continue to defend for the vested interests. This budget is based on a strategy that has already failed.
The government had only been able to provide “glossy guff” on building its much vaunted “knowledge economy”, he added.