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"Bankrupt Government should pack its bags and go" – Ó Caoláin

9 June, 2009 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has called on the Fianna Fáil/Green Government to resign and face the people in a General Election. Speaking in the debate on the Dáil confidence motion, Deputy Ó Caoláin said the Government is "bankrupt not only in finances but bankrupt in policies, bankrupt in skills and bankrupt in ideas and it is time for you all to pack your bags and follow the Taoiseach out the back door".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“The Sinn Féin TDs will be voting no confidence in the Government in the Dáil vote tomorrow. The people very clearly have absolutely no confidence in this Fianna Fáil/Green Government. They have shown that by their overwhelming vote last Friday in the local and European elections.

“This is a disastrous Government and with no mandate. They have no political authority to govern and no competence to govern.

“400,000 unemployed people and their dependents demand that this Government should go. The many thousands of workers whose incomes have been hit by pay cuts, short-time working and unfair levies demand that the Government should go.

“People hit by savage cuts to public services in health and education demand that this Government go.

“The coalition of corrupt politicians, property developers and bankers brought this economy to its knees and they will not and cannot lead it into recovery. They should all be turfed out.

“People have not punished the Fianna Fáil/Green Government because a global recession has hit Ireland. They have done so because they know the recession is worse in our country as a result of the disastrous policies pursued by Fianna Fáil and the PDs for over a decade and the disastrous decisions made by Fianna Fáil and the Greens over these past two years.

“The Programme for Government was negotiated by three parties, one of which, the PDs, no longer exists, although its former leader remains a key Minister. The Green Party has been reduced to three seats in local government and Fianna Fáil has suffered an unprecedented loss of 89 city and county council seats.

“The former leader of the Green Party engaged in the charade of saying he would resign as leader rather than go into Government with Fianna Fáil. He did indeed resign - not in an effort to prevent or to oppose such a coalition but to facilitate it. It was downhill all the way for the Greens after that.

“This is a Government totally out of touch with the people. A couple of weeks before the election, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan claimed that social welfare rates in this State are “far more generous than those in other countries” and suggested that they are a disincentive to work.

“His suggestion is an insult to the tens of thousands of people dependent on social welfare who are struggling from week to week.

“Minister Lenihan should try living on the €204.30 per week Jobseekers Allowance. Or better still he should try living on €100 per week, the new rate for unemployed people under 20, after the Fianna Fáil/Green Government’s savage budget cut to Jobseekers Allowance for young people.

“Thousands of people are joining the dole queues every month thanks to the disastrous policies of this Government. But instead of coming up with a real job retention and job creation strategy Minister Lenihan is preparing to cut social welfare on the spurious basis that unemployed people don’t want to work because welfare payments as so generous. They are to have more hardship inflicted on them to spur them on to find jobs that do not exist.

“It is a clear example of how this totally discredited Government attacks the living standards of low income families.

“400,000 people are on the dole queues and this is a Government with no strategy for the retention and the creation of jobs.

“The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has allowed jobs to bleed from this economy and has stood idly by. The case of SR Technics is the classic example, but only one example. The Government has allowed a viable, strategic and world-class Irish industry to be destroyed by multinational vultures.

“The workers’ representative, Willie Quigley, said on national radio, ‘When SR Technics saw that the Government was not prepared to back a plan that would save around 900 jobs they knew they had a free run.’

“But the saga of these job losses did not begin with the recession. This was a company that was once part of Aer Lingus and was then privatised. The result today is the unemployment scrapheap for workers and their families. Right-wing policies pursued by a right-wing Government ultimately killed off these jobs. In the same way the telecommunications infrastructure in this State is sub-standard in spite of the prosperity of the Celtic Tiger years because right-wing policies pursued by a right-wing government led to the privatisation of Eircom. That was one of the greatest ever swindles of the public and we are all paying the price today.

“My point is that the causes of the economic recession in this country and the reasons for the disastrous decisions of this Government are deep-rooted. Policies pursued by Fianna Fáil-led government since 1997 have led us to where we are today.

“Minister of State Dick Roche claimed on radio today that no-one in political life objected to the total dependence on the construction boom and the property bubble which is so clearly responsible for the depth of the recession in this State compared to other EU states. Minister Roche’s claim is completely false.

“His colleague Minister Lenihan made a similar claim back in April when he said: ‘Some did warn that the housing market was unsustainable. Plenty did not.’

“We in Sinn Féin stand on our record in that regard. In November 2003 at the Construction Industry Federation conference the then Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy actually asked advice from the assembled developers and property speculators on housing policy. I stated at the time that the Government, in tandem with the same developers and property speculators, was directly responsible for the spiralling price of houses. It was at the behest of the Construction Industry Federation that the Government gutted Section V of its own Planning Act 2000 which required 20% of new developments to consist of social and affordable housing.

“The housing policy of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats government was totally market-driven. As a result we had massive local authority waiting lists and even people on above average incomes could not afford a home. Between 1998 and 2003 the price of a new house in this State rose on average by 177%.

“But in terms of policy nothing has changed. The recent Budget actually slashed the funding for the provision of social housing by local authorities. The Government has learned nothing from the failures of the past decade. It acknowledges no fault on its own part and that is absolutely galling and infuriates people up and down this country.

“As well as mounting an assault on low to middle income earners this Fianna Fáil/Green Government is imposing savage cuts to public services that will have extremely damaging long-term consequences.

“Our public health services, already badly affected by cuts since autumn 2007, are facing nothing short of disaster. But the Minister for Health Mary Harney tries to maintain the fiction that she is maintaining services to patients while those services are being reduced or removed altogether.

“The Government has placed an embargo on the filling of almost all posts in the public health service. In addition it is expected that contracts for up to 14,000 workers in the health services will not be renewed. This is a recipe for disaster in our public health services.

“HSE senior management have indicated that they were not consulted prior to the Government’s announcement of the embargo on 26 March but are required to implement the Government decision.

“The Irish Nurses Organisation and SIPTU have already indicated to the HSE that it will not be possible to run the public health service in the context of the recruitment embargo as announced by Government.

“Communities in Clare and North Tipperary have had 24-hour A&E cover removed from their hospitals in Ennis and Nenagh, placing the Regional Hospital in Limerick under enormous pressure. Breast cancer services went from the Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda also, placing Beaumont Hospital under more pressure. Monaghan General Hospital is about to lose its last remaining acute hospital services. And hospital services in Cork and Kerry are to be centralised in Cork city.

“Waiting lists and A&E queues are as bad as ever and will worsen with the massive cuts in jobs in the public health service.

“Those nurses who are not laid off now face a doubled income levy and health levy, as well as the public services pension levy. At the same time the Minister gives a gold-plated guarantee to the hospital consultants that their €250,000 per annum contract will not be touched. This is for a 33-hour week in the public system and they can still work up to 25% of that time in private practice. And, even at that, the hours are not properly monitored, leaving a question mark over the time spent in and commitment to the public health system by some consultants. They in turn tarnish the public’s view of all practitioners at this level.

“The Government has repeatedly claimed that one of the factors that made us an economic success story was a young well-educated workforce. Yet what has the Government done to education? They have cut €30 million from the school building programme. This is on top of the education cuts already introduced, cuts which hit the most vulnerable, such as children with special needs.

“The cut in the school building programme is pure folly in terms of education, in terms of public spending and in terms of employment.

“Children will continue to be taught in overcrowded and sub-standard classrooms. There are 1,400 schools on the school building waiting list. 100,000 additional pupils will enter primary school over the next decade. Where will they be accommodated?

“Over the last three years the Government has spent €113 million on rental of school prefabs. The Education Minister has projected a further spend of €48 million on prefabs for 2009. The annual average cost to the Department for each prefab is €12,500. So the cut in the School Building Programme is very bad for the public finances, a cut that will cost far more in the long-run, guaranteeing rental income to companies supplying prefabs but leaving the schools with deteriorating and eventually useless and worthless units.

“The Government should be increasing and front-loading the Schools Building Programme as part of a job creation strategy, as proposed by Sinn Féin in our comprehensive employment retention and creation document ‘Getting Ireland Back to Work’.

“I would like to refer to the situation in the Border Counties. We have witnessed the closure of small businesses with the lights going out for the last time. This is happening in large and small towns along the border’s length. There needs to be tax harmonisation. These things have to be addressed. These changes are not only essential for the Border counties but for the whole country. How can people invest in business in the Border counties and build on such uncertain foundations? These are foundations of sand. It is critical that Government understand this. I appeal to the Tánasite and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to address this issue as a matter of urgency.

“In conclusion I want to say this is a Government that is bankrupt not only in finances but bankrupt in policies, bankrupt in skills and bankrupt in ideas and it is time for you all to pack your bags and follow the Taoiseach out the back door.” ENDS

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