Former taoiseach calls for budget unity


FORMER TAOISEACH Garret FitzGerald lent his support to the impending budget cuts at a talk in New York on Friday night and expressed hope that Opposition parties would throw their weight behind them.

Mr FitzGerald also said a new government would be “best placed” to implement the policies.

“They’ve made an awful mess of the economy. They’re now trying to do the right thing,” Mr FitzGerald said, addressing an audience of business people at the Cornell Club in Manhattan. The question and answer session was organised by New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House and the Hudson Union Society, a group affiliated with the Yale Political Union.

Mr FitzGerald said Ireland’s international credibility would strengthen if the package of tax increases and cuts to public spending likely in December received general political support. But a new government would be better placed to implement the policy.

“In the spring, there probably will be an election and it probably will be a good thing,” he said, citing the Government’s low approval rates. “Leaving aside the question of who’s best equipped to handle the situation, it’s much easier if a government has strong support from the electorate.”

Several times, Mr FitzGerald singled out Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan for praise. Speaking of the Government, he said: “They’re lucky in that the Minister for Finance – now a very powerful figure and greatly respected – was not until 2007. So he has real credibility.”

Mr Lenihan had been “too intelligent and too straight to be put in government – so at least he has some trust”.

When asked if Taoiseach Brian Cowen should resign, Mr FitzGerald replied: “He is unpopular, and he’s a good man. He just, I think, is not ideally equipped to deal with the situation.”

Nevertheless, he had warm words both for the Government and for the Irish people. He pointed out that Ireland had seen neither violence nor riots, although protests had occurred. “Things are being well done. The Government has shown courage, and the people have shown patience.”

Mr FitzGerald blamed the Real IRA’s bombing campaign for low international investment in Northern Ireland, and said the resulting economic problems continued to hinder the possibility of a united Ireland. But it is still not entirely out of the question. “There’s certainly not a prospect for it economically in the foreseeable future. But that could change,” he said. “We’ve had some radical changes in our own State over the past 30 years and you can’t rule out what might happen in the future. But it’s a long way down the line.”

Mr FitzGerald spoke hopefully of the country’s finances. Because it is an island, exports are a big part of its economy, he said. When the world economy picks up, Ireland’s will do likewise, and he said the impact would be “dramatic”. “We’ll come out at the end.”