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Fiscal Responsibility Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 778 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy John Deasy: Information on John Deasy Zoom on John Deasy] Unfortunately, the IMF confirmed the trend yesterday that there is no great lift. The Minister for Finance made an important point when he said we had to remember we are still in growth and have been for some years. Although the growth is small it is significant that we are in growth. The stewardship by the Minister of this portfolio has been amazing in recent years. In my view people want him in the job, believing he is the person who understands the issues and knows where we need to be in a couple of years. The Minister has not yet been on the cover of Time but, as I keep telling him, if he was a Minister in China he would be only at the start of his political career. He still has time. The IMF stated that Ireland's economy was in a bumpy recovery and would achieve 1.4% next year. It also stated the global economic slowdown is worsening, with the eurozone area contracting this year and, at best, flatlining next year.

  I refer again to the Central Bank report published in August which stated: "Consolidation episodes that focus on expenditure reduction appear more successful at reducing deficits in a sustainable and structural manner that is least damaging to growth." To my mind, that is the bank's way of saying that government needs to get smaller - and smaller again. I agree with that and do not believe we can shy away from it.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I wish to focus on growth. Within any budget, be it at household or government level, one needs rules. Enough conversation has been had on the actual Bill: now conversations will continue around the type of strategy the Government is employing. However, bringing it back to a household level, the general consensus is that it is not an ideal situation if one spends too much.

On a more geographical or parochial level, within the eurozone set-up we sometimes focus, as we must, on rules around a currency and think in terms of France, Germany or our eurozone partners. However, sometimes we take for granted our closest political friend and ally, Britain, which takes 42% of our exports. If I am correct, Ireland is the fifth largest trading partner with the UK. That is something we must be cognisant of when we talk about growth strategy and how we can get out of the economic mess we are in, but we should not take it for granted. Constituents tell me there still is a scepticism about the EU strategy, the eurozone and the euro and say we would be better off with Britain. Speaking politically, I believe we can have both. We can employ a very coherent EU strategy in the protection of the euro while, at the same time, not ignore the good and harmonious working relationship we have with the UK.

In this House we can work on this. We have a backdrop in that in March 2012 the Taoiseach and Prime Minister David Cameron signed a bilateral agreement between Britain and Ireland to have a working relationship. From a historical point of view, this was the first time since we won Independence that such a document was signed without Northern Ireland being in the background. That is good; we have moved on and the maturity of the relationship between the UK and Ireland has moved to a heightened level where we can work on mutual ground. Take, for example, the Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, who is working very closely with his counterpart in the UK on a memorandum of understanding in the energy sector.

We in this House must work with the backdrop of so much happening on a UK-Ireland basis. From a growth perspective we need to work more closely with our UK counterparts. This is working well on a North-South basis. Next Friday will be a historic day when the North-South interparliamentary association will have its inaugural meeting in the Seanad. I wish to put on the record of this House my welcome for the event. At the same time, however, we need to work closely with our UK counterparts. If politics are to work for the citizen we must lay out a long-term plan. The previous speaker, Deputy Deasy, alluded to this.

There will be projections and many narratives. Those economists are still around who helped and aided us to get into this mess and they will continue to make projections and predictions about the future. The only future in politics is the present. We must consider our citizens, get into their households and mindsets and look at what is going on in their lives. Let us take the lowest common denominator and consider, for example, a bill for electricity in a household, a bill which is paramount for that household's budget. If we take that to a bigger and heightened level, the political, we must examine how we as politicians on an east-west basis, in Britain and Ireland, can work towards decreasing that electricity bill. In Britain at present the conversation about energy is about the depleted reserves of coal and nuclear power. In this country we have an opportunity in terms of offshore energy and renewable green energy. We can export our energy, not only to the UK but into the European grid.

The Acting Chairman is putting me under some pressure timewise to bring this to a conclusion. In my opinion, we are not doing enough on a British-Irish basis. As in any relationship, we take our closest partner for granted. Maybe that is something we should all think about - our closest ally and friend. This is not plan B in regard to the euro, not about choosing to be part of the eurozone or part of Britain. We can do both. It is not about having an affair with Britain but about not taking it for granted.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I take it from Deputy McHugh's remarks he is likening Anglo-Irish relations to the relationship between the Labour Party and Fine Gael. May we offer our services in the event the parties need to strike a Good Friday-type arrangement? I hope the Labour Party's better instincts would win out in that particular encounter.

Deputy Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan We have an agreed programme for Government.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh Maybe we are just taking each other for granted.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey No interruptions, please.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald As other speakers noted, this week the IMF admitted it had been wrong about the impact austerity would have on the Irish economy. It told us it had not foreseen the massively damaging impact tax hikes and cuts to expenditure would have on jobs and spending. It is very hard to believe that the IMF, or indeed any economist or commentator worth her or his salt, could have believed that taking tens of billions of euro out of an economy over a short number of years was a good idea. Certainly the citizens to whom Deputy McHugh referred knew that from the absolute get-go. A contractionary approach was never going to work or bring about growth; it will never bring us to recovery.

The Government's decision to continue socialising private debt is not only deeply unjust but is deepening the crisis and condemning in particular a generation of young Irish people to joblessness and emigration. Government failure to secure a real and substantive deal on the Anglo Irish Bank promissory note and its refusal to end the obscene payments by State-owned banks to unguaranteed bondholders makes this Bill almost laughable.

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