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Confidence in the Government: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] They should get out of town because the public are coming for them in droves. I wish the Taoiseach well; as he knows, I do not bear him any ill will. However, he should look behind him; his colleagues are not safe either. They are not saying in public what they are saying to him in private. Therefore, bí cúramach, make haste slowly. The next election is coming.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Liam Twomey): Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey I call the Taoiseach who I understand is sharing time with the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore; Deputy Paschal Donohoe; and the Ministers of State, Deputies Brian Hayes and Alex White. Is that correct?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny That is correct.

I welcome the opportunity to come to the House to defend the Government's record against this ill-founded and nonsensical motion. The motion, tabled by Sinn Féin, represents nothing more than a politically opportunistic act by a party that has nothing to offer in the national debate, except easy options and damaging policies. Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission was a con-job to avoid answering the most basic of questions about how it would manage the economy. It admits its wealth tax proposal was not costed by the Department of Finance and, incredibly, claimed that it would raise €800 million. The truth is that its policies would tax the country back into recession. Furthermore, the Government will not accept lectures from a hypocritical party which implements tax increases and spending cuts north of the Border, while opposing every such similar policy down here.

The truth is that the Government has been very hard at work clearing the economic wreckage left by the former Fianna Fáil Administration which left the country with a humiliating IMF bailout programme, massive bank debts saddled on the taxpayer, record numbers of Irish people unemployed and the highest deficit in Europe. That was its legacy and record. The current leader of the party opposite who sat in the Cabinet throughout all of those ruinous years chooses to come into the House to criticise the work and record of the Government in sorting out the problem. The date 9 March 2011 marked a fresh start for the country. The 12 months previous to that date were rocked by instability and crisis of leadership, while the country continued to sleepwalk deeper into crisis. Fast forward to today and the country, while still in a very challenging position with a fragile economy, is on a solid path towards recovery. We have made a start in tackling the country's problems and in getting Ireland working again.

Our first priority in government was to restore economic, financial and political stability and rebuild the international reputation of the country, in which every Minister, including the Tánaiste and everybody else, has played his or her part. Central to this was the commitment to deliver on our promise to engage constructively with the troika to re-engineer aspects of the bailout programme to give Ireland the best chance of emerging from the programme in 2013. Despite the constant wave of negativity from some of the parties opposite and other quarters that said it could not be done and that the Government was failing to secure agreement, we delivered on serious aspects of our promises. We secured agreement on reducing Ireland's programme loan interest rates and extending loan maturities which cut the cost of the IMF-EU bailout loans by more than €9 billion. We also secured agreement on the restoration of the minimum wage. We further secured agreement on keeping a large portion of the proceeds from the sale of State assets. We have secured agreement, in principle, to break the link between bank debt and sovereign debt.

I recognise that the burden on taxpayers is still very onerous. I will travel to Brussels tomorrow to continue the discussions on the framework for a single European bank regulator. Separately, Irish officials continue to work with the European institutions on a solution to the promissory note issue. I am hopeful progress will be made in the coming weeks and months as we continue to work to make Ireland's recovery stronger and more sustainable.

The focus of the Government is and has to be on providing more jobs. I do not accept that we have to be saddled indefinitely with current high rates of unemployment, slow growth and a squeeze on disposable incomes. These are neither inevitable nor tolerable. Our ambition is to move beyond the level of progress achieved to date and tackle these key issues head on. For this reason, we have deliberately focused on job creation and are committed to ensuring our policies support strong and sustainable employment growth into the future. We are committed to adding 100,000 jobs to the economy by 2016 and have 2 million people in employment by 2020. To achieve this, as I have said on many occasions, I want Ireland to be recognised as the best small country in the world in which to do business by 2016.

In our first 100 days in office we introduced the jobs initiative, with a range of tax supports to help job intensive industries such as the tourism and hospitality sectors, in which employment has grown in the past year. The 2012 budget had a real focus on encouraging the foreign direct investment sector to expand further in Ireland and help Irish companies to expand further abroad. Throughout the course of the year we have had a series of major investment and jobs announcements by both indigenous and foreign companies, including the Kerry Group, Paypal, Apple, Mylan, Voxpro, Paddy Power, EA Games, Arvato Finance and so on. Last year saw exports reach new heights, with a record figure of €173 billion, 10% higher than in 2007, the highest pre-crisis figure. A good export performance is expected again this year and nobody can deny the importance of this. Earlier this year we launched the comprehensive and detailed Action Plan for Jobs. The plan is about taking incremental and necessary action right across government to support enterprises to grow and create and retain jobs. In tandem with this, we launched the Pathways to Work scheme which represents a complete restructuring and fundamental reform of welfare services and the way we support jobseekers and treat them as individuals who can make a real contribution to a company, not just as statistics.

We have looked to maximise private investment in much needed infrastructure. Last year we announced the establishment of NewERA and a strategic investment fund. To improve the availability of credit for business, the credit guarantee scheme commenced in October this year. Initially, the scheme will facilitate the provision of up to €150 million in additional lending per annum for SMEs, in addition to the lending targets set for the pillar banks. A microfinance scheme also opened for business in October. While unemployment is still unacceptably high and its effects are felt far too wide, the most recent quarterly figures show that the position on employment has stabilised. The pro-job measures included in the budget last week were aimed at building on these first steps to encourage greater job creation and investment. People should be aware that in the three years prior to the Government taking office 250,000 jobs had been lost in the private sector in Ireland and that 20,000 new private sector jobs have been created in the past 12 months. The package of initiatives included in the budget announced last week aimed specifically and without apology at the small and medium enterprise sector hold real possibilities for job expansion in the future. The budget is a building block in the transition from the old failed economic plan based on property speculation and debt to a new competitive economy for the future.

Fixing the national finances and putting them back on a sound footing is a prerequisite for job creation and economic growth. I make no apology for supporting the vital need to reduce the national deficit to more sustainable levels. To this end, we are fully committed to meeting the 2013 deficit ceiling of 7.5% of GDP and reducing it to below 3% by 2015. This is not an easy budget for Ireland or its people. We never said the mandate given to us or the responsibility taken on by the Government would be easy or that we had turned a corner, seen green shoots and so on. We always said this would be the most challenging budget in the lifetime of the Administration and that the Government had taken on an unprecedentedly difficult task in accepting the mandate of the people to sort out the country's problems. We inherited an Ireland in a bailout programme, shut off from the international funding markets and reliant on funding support from our international partners. Today we are in a position where we have begun to borrow in international markets again and the interest rate on ten-year Irish bonds is down to 4.6% compared to a rate of more than 15% last year. The banks and utilities are able to access the markets once again for funding for investment and we remain on course to exit from the programme successfully in 2013.

I appreciate the patience, co-operation and sacrifice of the people as we make these tough decisions in the interests of the country and all the people. Where changes have been introduced in the past two years, we can see the benefit, with the changes beginning to produce real results in job creation and investment.

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