Cowen says FF should have taxed property more


THE GOVERNENT should have taxed property more and spent less during the economic boom, the Taoiseach said last night on the Late Late Show with new host Ryan Tubridy.

Under questioning from Tubridy about what he accepted blame for during his years as Minsiter for Finance, Mr Cowen said “looking back now we should have taxed housing more than we did”.

When Tubridy asked Mr Cowen why this was not done, he said: “Because at the time there was no-one suggesting that that was a policy intiative that was relevant or that was going to solve the problem.”

Tubridy again asked the Taoiseach to clarify what he accepted he had done wrong, and Mr Cowen said: “If I knew then what we know now we wouldnt have spent as much.”

However, Mr Cowen said he wanted to make the points that during the economic boom Ireland was still reducing its debt, still had surpluses, and was not spending everything that was coming in.

He insisted that the decisions taken were based on the best advice available and a lot of historical problems were dealt with.Twice Mr Cowen used the phrase “hit the wall” to describe what had happened to the economy recently.

Tubridy asked Mr Cowen if he envied his predecessor Bertie Ahern’s sense of timing, prompting laughter from the audience when he added “you talk about hindsight, he had some foresight”.

Mr Cowen said he thought that was unfair on Mr Ahern. No-one had foreseen the collapse of Lehman Brothers, he said. “He served his country well over that period of time.”

In the early part of the interview there was audience applause for some of the questions but not for the answers. The host made reference to “crazy spending” on Ministerial expenses, without mentioning Ceann Comhairle John ODonoghue.

“Can you tell me Taoiseach how you’re going to stop a bill for for example €9,616 on car hire while attending the Cannes film festival?” he asked.

Mr Cowen said the arrangements referred would not be repeated and changes had already been made.

He acknowledged that the results of the opinion polls carried in The Irish Times this week had been disappointing on a personal level. “Were not living in normal times and obviously it was a quiet breakfast in my household,” he said.

Later Mr Cowen said Nama was “the only show in town”. He added: “We will make sure that this Nama is being set-up for the purposes not of losing money but of making money,” he said.

Mr Cowen said he believed the Lisbon Treaty had to pass for the sake of the country. “We have nothing to fear from this Treaty and the assurances that we’ve got have dealt with the concerns, including a Commissioner for our country. ”

The Budget would be very difficult, he said.

“The Minister (for Finance) has made it clear that we look at expenditure cuts on this occasion . . .we have to because we can’t sustain the present situation.”

Later in the interview, the audience responded positively as the Taoiseach answered questions about his personal life.

When Tubridy asked the Taoiseach if he drank too much, Mr Cowen said: “No I dont, not at all”. Tubridy said: “Well where does the rumour come from?”

Mr Cowen said he was not responsible for these things.

“I work hard and I’ve never in any way at any time when I was doing my public duties ever done anything in an inappropriate way,” he said.

“And like yourself and members of the audience there are times at the weekend when you can relax with friends for a couple of drinks. That’s all this involves.”

He said he was trying to be authentic and true to himself and have a normal life.

When Tubridy asked the Taoiseach if he had annoyed him by asking the question, Mr Cowen prompted clapping when he responded with a good-humoured “Its your show”.

He said he probably rebelled against the “politically correct culture”. He was trying to be his “natural self, to talk to people and to behave properly of course in my public duties and relax with friends if I can”.

His answer was applauded by the audience. Mr Cowen also told Tubridy he liked being Taoiseach.