TWO YEARS AGO this month, this Government promised stability to a country in economic free fall. When we took office the country was in a state of chaos. We had lost our economic sovereignty. No private sector investors were prepared to lend money to the State. The banking system was broken and rudderless. There was a profound sense of crisis.
In March 2011 there was only five months worth of funding left to pay wages, to keep hospitals and schools open, to pay pensions and social welfare. Excluded from the international markets, our only other source of money was the bailout loan from the EU and the IMF. That deal came with onerous conditions – and it came at a high price – but in March of 2011, that was the choice we faced.
The banking system was on life support. Lack of credit was threatening to kill off the real economy. A quarter of a million jobs had been lost in the private sector in the preceding three years. Ireland’s reputation as a place to invest, and a place to do business, was deeply damaged in every international boardroom and in every capital.
That is the mess we inherited from Fianna Fáil.
The road to economic recovery
Two years on, we are much further down the road towards recovery and stability than we might have expected. Economically, the promissory notes and Anglo Irish Bank are gone. We have sold Irish Life and we have recovered €1 billion of the money invested by the State in Bank of Ireland. We are currently working on a deal on the extension of our bailout repayments.
There are modest signs of recovery in the domestic economy and the latest jobs figures from the CSO are encouraging.
For the Labour Party, our Ministers are delivering: Joan Burton has retained core welfare payments and has embarked on major reforms of the welfare system, Ruairi Quinn is driving an agenda of reform to school patronage, Brendan Howlin is delivering on a far-reaching agenda of public service reform, and Pat Rabbitte has published the first Affordable Energy Strategy and last week announced the establishment of an Energy Efficiency Fund.
After 20 years of inaction, were going to legislate for the X case. We are putting marriage equality to the Constitutional Convention. We passed the Children’s Rights referendum and are moving ahead on a programme to deal with the root causes of child poverty.
No one is claiming that it has been easy. And no one is claiming victory. But we can be confident in what has been achieved so far. And, because of those achievements because of the steadfast courage of the Irish people in the face of unprecedented adversity we can also be confident about our future.
There is still a huge amount of work to do, and some key issues remain outstanding. Central to that is the challenge of getting people back to work, and helping create jobs for people to come home to. For that reason we are continuing to implement job creation schemes and ensuring that those who have lost their jobs have the skills to return to employment.
It also means seeing the personal insolvency reforms deliver relief, this year, for people with distressed mortgages.
We have also had to take some tough decisions and we do not underestimate the daily impact they have had on people’s lives. We haven’t fixed everything and there is still work to do. But I am confident that when we go to the people at the next General Election we will be in a position to say that our record will be one of real achievement and that we have the vision to shape the new post-crisis Ireland.
Eamon Gilmore is leader of the Labour Party, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade.