Gilmore 'nervous' over Government's ability on economy


Labour leader Eamon Gilmore has said he is “nervous” about the capacity of the Government to manage the current economic downturn.

Mr Gilmore used his opening speech to the special meeting of his parliamentary party in Clonmel, Co Tipperary as a platform to launch a strong attack on the Government's economic policies and performance.

He said that the Government line was that the current downturn had been caused by outside forces and was not of the Government's making.

"Let's be clear about it, the names behind Ireland's economic woes are not Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac. They are Bertie A and Brian C," he said.

Turning to Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, he claimed that for all Mr Lenihan's intelligence he was utterly out of his depth in the Department of Finance.

He continued: "Meanwhile the Taoiseach who appointed him continues to look like a rabbit caught in headlights. He shows no sign of having the first idea what to do about the economic numbers that are landing on his desk on a daily basis.

In an earlier briefing to journalists, he said: "The present Government make me nervous. I mean I look at the Taoiseach, the Finance Minister and the Tánaiste (Mary Coughlan), the 3 most powerful political figures in the country, and they make me nervous for the country.

“I am concerned about their ability to provide the kind of leadership that is required to get us through the economic hump.”

The special two-day meeting is one of a series that political parties are holding before the Dáil returns on September 24th. This meeting is the first that Mr Gilmore has attended as party leader.

He told the party's TDs and Senators that he intended to propose a strategy for the party which had two objectives.

The first was to present Labour's own ideas and policies for the recovery of the Irish economy. The second was to develop the Labour Party not as a potential coalition party for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael but an alternative government in its own right. Describing this as the 'third way', Mr Gilmore said he hoped to make this objective a reality.

Today's deliberations have been focusing on the first plank, the economy. The party disclosed that its finance spokeswoman Joan Burton will unveil a fully-costed economic statement in the run up to the Budget on October 14th.

Mr Gilmore criticised the knee-jerk reaction of many commentators who have called for cuts in public services once the economy was in trouble. He also queried the calls for a pay pause, especially for families on low pay.

He said that he wasn't talking about a Government spending its way out of recession but said that measures were needed to kick-start the economy.

He instances a major school building programme as well as a national insulation scheme.

"Ireland is paying hundreds of millions to purchase carbon credits. Concerted action to retrain construction workers in relevant skills, coupled with modest tax incentives, low interest loans or grants (for home insulation) would generate much-need employment while lowering carbon emissions and reducing energy bills," he said.

He also pointed to more focus on skills qualification; the introduction of a previously floated Labour policy called 'Bring to Buy' which brought the State in as an equity partner with young homebuyers.

He also argued for the National Development Plan to be refocused on projects with a high economic and social return, like school buildings.

In relation to the renewal of the party, Mr Gilmore said that Labour by itself must become a real alternative in Irish politics.

"I have never accepted that the essential political choice in this country must always be between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. In the Irihs political context , the Third Way is labour and it is our duty and responsibility as it parliamentary leadership to take the steps which are necessary to make it happen."

He said the party's 21st century commission, chaired by accountant Greg Sparks, will present the findings on its review of the party's structure, aims and practices at a special conference in late November.