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European Council in Brussels: Statements (Continued)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 809 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] In normal times this would have been unexceptional, maybe even a welcome sign of stability, but these are not normal times. The scale of Europe's problems requires an urgency and ambition completely absent not only during our Presidency, but during the past four years. Nothing done in the past six months will change in any way the direction of Europe, create a new effort to achieve growth or address any of the deep flaws in the work of the Union that helped to create the crisis.

Ireland has delivered agreements to keep the push for austerity even where countries have had an alternative. Ireland has agreed to cut the Union's budget, to have those cuts focused on the Union's most important programmes and to keep the link between sovereign and financial debts. I will return to that point later. If the Taoiseach is satisfied with this and if he believes Europe has turned the corner, then he is spending too much time reading his own press releases.

As a result of the Lisbon treaty changes, the duties of the Presidency are significantly smaller than in the past and the absence of the major 2004 accession helped to ensure that costs could be significantly lower. Even with these changes the work of an EU Presidency has a major impact on all states, not only the smaller ones. Ireland has always handled them well because we give our best people responsibility, as the Taoiseach has outlined. Every Presidency since our first, in 1975, has been administered well. The daily work of our officials is unequalled by those of any other country not only in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but throughout Government, and officials have carried a heavy responsibility and delivered an impeccably administered Presidency. This work has rightly been praised in all parts of the Union.

However, for a Presidency to change the direction of Europe, it requires political leadership. This has been demonstrated in the past at a time when the Presidency was a much greater challenge. The 1984, 1990, 1996 and 2004 Presidencies each involved the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs achieving major moves forward on fundamental constitutional change within the Union. The 1984 and 2004 Presidencies in particular led the Council to overcome the belief that it was incapable of agreeing anything significant.

The Taoiseach claimed this morning that Ireland had overwhelmingly delivered on its Presidency objectives of stability, jobs and growth. Certainly, there has been a stability to the agenda, but with growth and employment forecasts for the coming years cut, the claim to have delivered on jobs and growth is clearly not true. A deflationary budget which cuts vital programmes will not deliver jobs and growth. The refusal to change existing economic policies will not deliver jobs and growth. The maintenance of deep structural flaws in the euro will not create jobs and growth.

A defining characteristic of this Government from the start has been the amount of time it puts into public relations. Politics before policy is its only consistent strategy. This has been brought to new levels during the Presidency and, in particular, during the past week. The Taoiseach has developed a deserved reputation for being the most partisan ever holder of his office. He finds it impossible to acknowledge the achievements of people from other traditions from either the recent or distant past.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Who wrote that?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Whereas predecessors of different parties saw their role as having a substantial national role above party politics, the Taoiseach has completely rejected this. He has now added to this and become the first Taoiseach of any party to use a Presidency of the EU to play domestic political games. He started this earlier in the year when he travelled to London and delivered a series of partisan speaking points to an academic and business audience. Last week, he went much further and showed that for him electoral politics always come first. The Anglo Irish Bank tapes have rightly caused a public outcry and outrage. When faced with this, the Taoiseach's first and overwhelming instinct was not to address the issue at hand, but to find a way of politicising it. Absolutely nothing in those tapes has implicated any politician in the appalling behaviour they reveal. Yet the Taoiseach decided he needed to start smearing people with crass innuendo and clearly false assertions about what information has been released to the public.

The Taoiseach has repeatedly stated that he knows nothing about what happened when the bank guarantee was brought in. He has said he would love to know what happened.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Is Deputy Martin going to tell us?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin If we put aside the lengthy statements and interviews, including those given in the House, this claim of the Taoiseach is transparent, partisan nonsense. For two and a half years he and his Ministers have been in full control of Government. They have had absolute access to the many records of events, especially those contained in all of the documents retained in the Department of Finance. More important, they have had access to the officials who were present at all stages of the guarantee process. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has refused to release some information under the freedom of information legislation. The Taoiseach cannot have it both ways.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny He has no control over that.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin In the Taoiseach's case, for an entire year he had at his side the most senior official present during that night.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There are no papers.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Is the Taoiseach expecting us to believe that he never asked the official any questions about the meetings he attended? The next most senior official, who was in the room that night as well, worked closely with this Government for well over a year. He regularly attended the Economic Management Council with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, at which bank-related debts were discussed. Did the Taoiseach ask him no questions during that time?

If the Taoiseach actually believed his own smears he would have used his complete access to officials and records to put the information into the public domain, but for two and a half years he has done nothing of the sort. Worse, he has taken no action to put in place any form of independent inquiry to produce the information he maintains is urgently needed.

I have no doubt that those the Taoiseach seeks to slur acted in good faith and on the basis of the best available information. They reached the same conclusion as the Taoiseach reached and he has not produced a credible alternative to what they decided that evening. His decision to take the low road reflects more on him than them. His first preference has always been to make an inquiry as political as possible and to take as long as possible. When the Oireachtas inquiries referendum was defeated in 2011 because the people did not trust this Government with the extra powers it was seeking, there were many alternatives open to the Government but none of them has been taken. This is not because of the need for any advice, it is because it was decided that the only inquiry Fine Gael and the Labour Party seek is one which can be trusted to be controlled directly by them.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There will be no secret inquiries.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin They have no wish to risk an inquiry that does not support their political agenda. Naturally, one thing the Taoiseach especially does not like referring to is that he voted for the same guarantee he says was the product of collusion. He sought outside advice and, in the cold light of day, supported it. He also went to his own private briefing at Anglo Irish Bank headquarters and seems to admit to believing that the bank would survive.

Last week in Brussels, the Taoiseach was eager to make this issue as prominent as possible. The majority of the Cabinet were sent out to deliver snide personal calls on people to supposedly reveal information that is already public. The Taoiseach was eager that the focus should be on implying Government collusion and that it should be seen as a particularly Irish issue. It is striking that Chancellor Merkel, in her reasonable comments, took a completely different approach from the Taoiseach. She directed her comments not only against Irish bankers, but against the mentality in many parts of the industry throughout Europe.

I have looked at the record relating to the three previous leaders of Fine Gael who were taoisigh during our Presidencies. In no case have I been able to find anything which comes close to the cynical party politics the Taoiseach displayed last week. The scale of this cynicism becomes more evident since we have learned that last week Ireland was confirmed as having returned to recession. It is two years since the Taoiseach started claiming to have delivered growth, but four of the past five quarters have seen the economy decline. Most people would have expected the Taoiseach and his Ministers to give a response to this and to explain what their strategy is to reverse the new trend, but they had nothing to say. They ran away from the microphones when asked about the return to recession but sought out every opportunity to talk about 2008.

Fundamentally, this is a Government more interested in exploiting the past than learning from it. It wants to keep re-fighting the last election and is happy to find people who support them in this. It is increasingly clear that it is not helping the Government to halt rising levels of dissatisfaction and falling levels of trust.

Last week's summit signed off on the last part of the country-specific approach to economic policy. The ensuing recommendations entrench current orthodoxy. They do not call on countries that have the ability to stimulate their economies to do so. They leave Europe with an economic policy which claims that freer trade and lower regulation are all that we need to deliver competitiveness, jobs and growth.

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