Obviously it’s almost impossible to separate what Taoiseach Brian Cowen said this morning from how he said it. However, posting a transcript here:
[Taoiseach Brian Cowen interviewed by Cathal Mac Coille on RTE’s Morning Ireland]
CMacC:…Taoiseach, good morning.
BC: Morning Cathal.
CMacC: And thanks for coming over before your breakfast. Now, we all expected €3 billion of cuts one shape or other in the budget now we hear it may be more, what’s going on?
BC: Well there’s nothing going on…The Minister for Finance is clarifying the fact that €3 billion is at least the figure we have to deal with and I think from our point of view what the whole estimates campaign will be about is as they begin now as he speaks to ministers in dealing with that issue and ensuring that the markets are very clear and the European Commission and our own electorate are very clear that this is the range of adjustment that has to be dealt with.
CMacC: But right now as you know first of all you have an electorate who are just really worried and depressed about the way things are going and they expected this figure of €3 billion. You have the markets, you have Brussels, you have the IMF criticising the Government for not being more specific about what’s coming, and in the middle of all this the Government says well €3 billion is indicative, it might be more, it might be the same. So I mean are you just softening us up or what’s going on?
BC: No well I think it’s important and we’ve been discussing this yesterday and today here at our own think-in I mean to recognise the strengths of the Irish economy as well as we try to ensure that we deal with the fiscal problem. I mean there’s no question but that any government in Ireland has to close the gap between what’s being spent and what’s coming in from taxpayers. It’s not a sustainable position and people understand that actually and know it, but what I’ve been emphasising and what we’ve all been emphasising is the strengths of our economy. What’s the place upon which we can grow and recover? And the real issue for us has been, having dealt with this sort of economic tsunami in 2008 and 2009 we’ve stabilised the situation. Our budgetary plans are on target.
CMacC: We don’t know what they are. It was going to be €3 billion. Now it might be more.
BC: No, I think…
CMacC: …You know about the need for certainty and you know about the difficulties in relation to Anglo Irish Bank and here you are, your finance minister, coming in and opening the door to who knows what? Could be €3 billion, could be €4 billion.
BC: With respect the media are getting into word games here and it’s important that we avoid them. What we’re talking about is dealing with the EU plans we have to cut our deficits in line with what we’ve said and as Brian Lenihan has been saying the minimum of what we’re talking about is €3 billion.
He’s now entering an estimates campaign with his ministers…he’s setting out very clearly the seriousness of our intent. And should there be any doubt about either at home or abroad that this government is not committed to dealing with the parts it has agreed, he’s making it very clear that we will deal with it.
CMacC: Would you like to, would you like to cut more if you could?
BC: Well unfortunately I’ve been looking at the Fine Gael policies as far as I can decipher it and others indeed and they were suggesting that the adjustment would be on the expenditure side totally.
CMacC: Would you like to cut more than €3 billion if you could, if that was feasible?
BC: Look we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that fiscal stability is returned to the country over a period of time. It won’t be done overnight, this year’s budget will not solve the problem in any event, in terms of whether it’s €3 billion or €3.1 billion or €3.2 billion or anything else and I think it’s important that people will understand that for every €5 we’re spending we’re taking in €3 in exchequer returns.
CMacC: …Can you rule out anything? Can you rule out €4 billion?
BC: We’re not talking about adjustments of that nature what we’re talking about is ensuring that people understand that this government is determined to meet the agreements it has reached with the European Commission and to do so in a way that is credible and is making sure that we…
CMacC: …are we talking €3 – €3.5 billion?
BC: Cathal, you’re long enough in the game to know that when we’re starting our estimates campaign the Minister for Finance is making it very clear that the €3 billion is not an illusory figure it is the basis upon which we’re going to discuss…
CMacC: And it won’t be 4?
BC: I don’t expect it will be four billion no but I don’t want to be anticipating or pre-empting discussions which are about to take place between ministers.
CMacC: One of the key elements of the Government’s strategy, the Croke Park Agreement, was criticised earlier in the programme by Leo Varadkar, who said that very little had been done to implement it. When are we going to see the kind of flexibility, the mobility, the big changes in the way the civil service, public service, works that that agreement promised?
BC: Well what’s going to happen now of course is, what people need to know is for next year we’re beginning discussions…what we have to do is align the estimates campaign with the industrial relations agenda. And what that’ll involve is where every department is setting out a [unclear] on the amount it’ll be able to have next year. It will be dealing with its on management and its own personnel and its own staff over coming months explaining that simply we have to get more from less, we want to avoid impact on those who…it’s during the course of this estimates campaign that we’ll be ending up with the situation where the allocations that will be made will require the implementation in many respects of the Good Friday of the, ah, sorry, the Croke Park Agreement, which is about redeployment, which is about better work practices…
CMacC: When will that happen, next year?
BC: Of course, it begins next year, we signed the agreement in June.
CMacC: A couple of things in relation to yourselves and the Greens. One is in the revised programme for Government, the agreement to bring in legislation on corporate donations. Have you reached agreement with them? When are we going to see it?
BC: Again that is, that is legislation that is in place or sorry that’s legislation that’s in preparation. The whole question of dealing with that is under consideration…[unclear]…as normal in seeing what way we can address this issue.
CMacC: Are corporate donations going to be banned as the Greens have said they want and given that it’s in the programme for government?
BC: As I say the legislation, if you look at the programme for Government it’s on the basis of what can be achieved based on that issue and we will deal with it in the normal way.
CMacC: Alright so you can’t say anything certain about it in other words even though it’s in the programme?
BC: Government decisions will be made based on the programme for government.
CMacC: Right. The byelections…more likely than not towards holding the byelections and the children’s rights referendum and the mayoral election for Dublin on the same day next year?
BC: The children’s rights referendum and the mayoral election and the byelections issue, these are not sort of convergent issues. These are issues that will be dealt with based on their own merits. The children’s referendum issue, we have a report from the committee involved, a lot of detailed work has to go into that as to how we can deal with it and what way we deal with it…It shouldn’t be assumed that all these matters can be handled and they’re a fait accomplis in terms of the amount of work that has to be done on them.
CMacC: Did you ever think by the way of going to John Gormley and saying I know you think this is a good idea but come on, another mayor, another car, another office, another set of executives around them – this is not the time, we’ll be slaughtered.
BC: Well I mean the issue on that is again it’s a programme for government commitment. The legislation in preparation, discussions take place at cabinet and we’ll discuss it further, and there has been discussion going on between Fianna Fail ministers and the Green Party on that issue in the context of local government reform generally.
CMacC: You think it’s a great idea?
BC: The Government is committed to that proposal in the programme for government and like any other commitment it has to be dealt with on that basis.
CMacC: Is it a great idea?
BC: I think it is a good idea if you can bring together a co-ordinated mayoral position that would deal with the whole planning and other issues right throughout the Dublin city and county.
CMacC: Final question Taoiseach, we spoke earlier in the programme to people who voted Fianna Fail in the last election. Some of them will vote for you again some of them absolutely wouldn’t. One of those who wouldn’t was a young person in Galway who said ‘I’ve no future as a result of what they’ve done. I’ve just graduated, I’ve no job prospects. I’m just wandering around the streets of Galway’. Now they don’t all have degrees but there are over 400,000 of those people…What can you say to the 400,000 of those people who see no prospect short of emigrating..?
BC: No there is hope for the future Cathal. The whole purpose of our budgetary policy is to stabilise the situation after the economy contracted by nine per cent in 2009. We’ve stabilised the situation this year and we have prospects of growth being spoken about not only by the ESRI but by international people like the IMF and others. This country will get back on track. There are no soft option politics available to us.
Yes there are difficulties ahead but I want to assure him and others, that person that you’ve…
CMacC: It was a her, yeah…
BC: Excuse me. The person you were speaking about herself and others. Yes there is a future for this country on the basis of growth on the basis of recovery on the basis of doing what’s necessary.
CMacC: On the likely maths she might as well emigrate…
BC: Defeatism Cathal will not solve this problem whether it’s in your organisation or anywhere else. Defeatism will not get us out of this situation. What will get us out of this situation is preparedness by a government to do what’s necessary to get this country back on track. Yes there will be cutbacks, yes there will be things that will have to be done, there will be new ways we have to deliver services. We all have to get in behind it and make sure we do it because it’s exactly about that by the way it’s about how we secure our kids future. That’s why we have to go ahead and do what we have to do.