Kenny to 'retrieve economic sovereignty'


Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he wanted to be “the Taoiseach who retrieves Ireland’s sovereignty” and outlined planned budgetary measures designed to create jobs, when he delivered his “State of the Nation” address last night.

Speaking from his office in Government Buildings, the Fine Gael leader said the Irish people were not responsible for the economic crisis, but the economy remained fragile and a “tough” budget was in prospect. “Let me say this to you all: You are not responsible for the crisis,” he said.

Cuts to “many worthwhile projects” would be implemented and while income tax would be left untouched, revenue would be raised mainly though indirect taxes, which he acknowledged would be difficult for many people.

“I wish I could tell you that the Budget won’t impact on every citizen in need, but I can’t,” Mr Kenny said.

His address was broadcast on RTÉ One after the 9pm news bulletin, having been recorded “as live” shortly before transmission time.

RTÉ said today the address had an average audience of 1,199,000 or 60 per cent share. The audience peaked at 1,231,320 at 9.39 pm.

It was broadcast later by TV3.

The long-awaited address was delivered on the eve of what is expected to be one of the toughest budgets announced in Ireland.

The Government will today and tomorrow outline spending cuts and tax rises amounting to €3.8 billion, as it tries to bridge the hole in the public finances.

The cuts in public spending will be outlined by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin this afternoon, while Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will set out taxation changes tomorrow when he delivers the traditional Budget Day speech.

Mr Kenny last night revealed the Budget would include a series of targeted measures that he said were specifically designed to create jobs and get people back to work.

“It will include, among other initiatives, a new system of loan guarantees which will enable banks to resume lending and a new microfinance scheme which will help people to start their own businesses. This will allow small firms to take on one or even two employees.”

He said the State was currently spending €16 billion a year more than it was taking in, and said he wanted to see the deficit under control and real growth in jobs by 2015.

While the creation of jobs was at the centre of the Government’s plan, he was “painfully aware” progress would not happen quickly enough for many people currently unemployed.

“We have not so far been in a position to do everything we promised.” Projects including Metro North would be postponed, he said.

A referendum to abolish the Seanad would be held next year, he added. “We are not able to do all we would like to in this Budget because we simply can’t afford to.”

Turning to the wider euro zone crisis, Mr Kenny addressed the continuing uncertainty about the future of the European single currency.

He said Ireland was an island nation that could not operate in isolation. Mr Kenny pledged to work during ongoing negotiations to achieve a “positive outcome” for Ireland, “one that ensures and protects our economic security”.

He called on European leaders to make and implement “clear decisions this week to prove our shared determination to protect our currency”, or else international confidence and investment in Europe would continue to fall.

Ireland supported stronger economic governance throughout Europe, and “the Irish people are paying the price now for the absence of such rules in the past”.

However, Mr Kenny said he felt optimistic about Ireland’s future, adding that he believed that some international confidence in the State had been restored. “I want to be the Taoiseach who retrieves Ireland’s economic sovereignty, and who leads a Government that will help our country succeed.”

Mr Kenny delivered the 10-minute address from his desk, flanked by the Irish flag and that of the EU.

He described the occasion of his address as “an exceptional event”. Televised addresses by taoisigh are indeed rare events, with Mr Kenny’s the sixth such address to take place.

Ireland was on a “four-year path” to recovery, he said. “In outlining the Government’s strategy with you tonight, I do not for a moment want to make it sound simplistic or painless. It is not.”