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Ó Caoláin opens Economy debate at Ard Fheis

28 February, 2004

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin opened the debate on the Economy at the party's Ard Fheis on Saturday 28th February said 'Instead of building the services that our people need, instead of eliminating poverty, providing housing and improving health, Fianna Fáil and the PDs have used wealth to reward the wealthy and to feather the nests of their friends in big business.' Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

Ba mhaith liom Rún 156 in ainm an Ard Chomhairle a mholadh.

The past decade has been a time of unprecedented prosperity in Ireland with unprecedented resources in the hands of the Irish Government. Never was so much money at the disposal of so few people in Irish society. But never did a Government make such an enormous mess of the opportunities that were handed to it on a golden plate. They have deliberately and deceitfully squandered resources which do not belong to them but to the Irish people. Instead of building the services that our people need, instead of eliminating poverty, providing housing and improving health, Fianna Fáil and the PDs have used wealth to reward the wealthy and to feather the nests of their friends in big business.

In successive Budgets since 1997 Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy has imposed this agenda of inequality. Only this week in Leinster House he put through a Finance Bill implementing Budget 2004 and which exposes all the twisted thinking of this Minister and this Government.

His Bill extends tax breaks for developers of multi-storey car-parks while rural communities are denied public transport.

It extends tax breaks for developers of hotels, holiday camps and holiday cottages while 50,00 family housing units languish on waiting lists and local authorities are deprived of funding to provide social housing.

McCreevy's Bill also extends tax giveaways to developers of private hospitals and private sports injuries clinics. While Minister McCreevy throws money at the lucrative private health business our public health system is in a state of continuing crisis.

And what is the cost of all these tax giveaways to property speculators and developers that will continue until 2006? Neither the Minister, nor his Department nor the Revenue Commissioners know the answer. I asked the Minister in a Dáil Question last week and he admitted that they simply do not know. Yet they will carry on the giveaway until 2006. This is the same Government that has imposed a miserable and miserly cut in Rent Allowance to make a so-called saving that is causing real hardship and driving people into homelessness.

This is the thinking of a Government that cares more for housing horses in Punchestown than it does for housing people in homes. It is a Government that is more eager to please its friends in the Fianna Fáil hospitality tent at the Galway races and the high flyers at Cheltenham than keeping their promises to the people who elected them and whom they have betrayed.

I also want to support the motions on privatisation. We saw this week what privatisation actually means. Tony O'Reilly alone is set to receive €36 million when he sells his stake in the privatised Eircom. In 1999 over half a million people were persuaded by this Government through a multi-million pound advertising campaign to buy shares in the privatised company. In November 2001 the people who bought Eircom shares were faced with the Hobson's Choice to sell their shares to Valentia at a loss or lose all that was left of their share value.

The vast majority of people who bought those shares, and who lost substantial sums which many of them could ill afford, were ordinary citizens who had never bought shares before but were persuaded by this Government to buy into a company that they, the public, had owned. This has turned out to be a device to enrich a handful of privateers with no benefit to consumers.

We now have a private company, Eircom, with a virtual monopoly, 80% of the landline market in this State. We have a situation where this company was allowed to increase line rental charges by 25% in the past 18 months. So much for the benefits of competition. This is a prime example of the folly of the privatisation agenda being pursued by this Government and one they plan ultimately to replicate in the case Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta and CIE. They must be stopped and they will be stopped.

Since my election to the Dáil in 1997 I have presented on behalf of Sinn Féin 7 pre-Budget submissions setting out our alternative to the bankrupt policies of Fianna Fáil and the PDs. We are presenting the only alternative based on the sharing of the wealth of this nation. Let us take that alternative to the people in the local and EU elections and beyond and let us give Minister McCreevy and his cronies the answer they so richly deserve.

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