Coalition plans vigorous campaign to win support for €4bn spending cuts


THE GOVERNMENT has decided to mount a vigorous campaign over the next three weeks in support of its strategy of spending cuts, following today’s debate in the Dáil on options for the budget on December 9th.

While Fine Gael and Labour have accused the Coalition of looking to them for cover, the Coalition has decided on a campaign in support of its plan to cut spending rather than raise taxes.

Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are in the process of distributing a two-page document to all Government TDs and Senators setting out the main arguments underlying the Government’s case for €4 billion savings to be achieved in the forthcoming budget. Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan met yesterday to discuss the shape of the budget and how best to present the austerity measures to the public.

The document contains bullet points under eight headings for use by Government TDs and Senators in debates on the budget package.

One bullet point reads: “No pot of gold from increasing taxes. Can’t tax our way out of recession,” while another says: “Spending is unsustainable.”

The pamphlet continues by saying the period of adjustment cannot be prolonged, as debt will increase. It also argues: “We must not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s, when large deficits were not tackled decisively.”

There are also references to the falling cost of living, which will be the focus of an assertive Government campaign during the weeks leading before the budget.

“Prices and costs are falling; the cost of providing public services must fall too,” it states. “The cost of living has dropped sharply for all groups in society over the past 12 months,” according to another heading.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny yesterday declined to outline his party’s budgetary strategy and accused the Government of “looking for cover” from his party. “They want us to spell out every detail even down to the price of knitting needles,” he said.

Fine Gael’s economic strategy would not be finalised this week but would be published ahead of next month’s budget, he said. “Fine Gael will publish our strategy to deal with this particular fiscal problem and the broader economic development of what we want,” he said.

Mr Kenny said Ministers were now trying to test the public mood ahead of the budget. “We are having Minister after Minister flying kite after kite. Yesterday, it was child benefit, today it is medical cards, what will it be tomorrow?” he asked.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said the Taoiseach’s weekend criticism of the Opposition had demonstrated that he lacked the qualities of national leadership required to bring the country out of the economic morass that he and others in Fianna Fáil created.

“At a time when the Labour Party is being very constructive in its approach to our economic problems, Mr Cowen cannot resist the temptation to put on the tribal war-paint and beat the tom-toms for the Fianna Fáil faithful by trying to give the Opposition a good kicking.”

He said that Labour accepted that a gap of around €4 billion would have to be closed in the budget and would publish proposals in the coming weeks showing how this could be done in such a way as to minimise the hardship on those who could least bear it.

“Part of the reason for Mr Cowen’s attempts to divert attention on to the Opposition is to focus attention away from the record of his own party and particularly his own role as minister for finance.

“Mr Cowen was a minister when many disastrous economic decisions were made, he said.