Many McCarthy proposals 'make no sense' - Coughlan

 

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan told the Dáil today that many of the recommendations of the McCarthy report into Government spending "don't make sense".

The report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes, which was released in July, contains recommendations aimed at achieving savings of €5.3 billion in public spending per annum.

Ms Coughlan made the comment during an exchange with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, who accused the Government of "making a mess" of prison spaces.

Mr Gilmore called on the Tánaiste to state the Government would reject the McCarthy report recommendation that 350 Garda stations across the State should be closed.

"What sense is there in closing 350 Garda stations to make savings of €1 million. You could make that saving by abolishing two ministers of state. This recommendation doesn't make any sense, it is nonsense . . . particularly when the savings are so small."

Ms Coughlan said all the proposals in the McCarthy report were being considered within the budgetary framework. "There are many recommendations within McCarthy that don't make sense, many," she said. "But it will be a matter for the Government to make the appropriate decisions."

In response, the Minister for Finance said the McCarthy report was "key" to the budgetary process was key to the budgetary process.

The Department of Finance has written to other departments emphasising they should fully consider its recommendations "and if they do not propose to implement these recommendations then they should provide alternatives and reasons why the recommendations are not being implemented".

Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar said Ms Coughlan's comments on the McCarthy report exposed a "incompetent and dithering Government".

"Now that Brian Cowen has set himself against tax increases and the recommendations of the Commission on Taxation, and Mary Coughlan has now set out the Government's opposition to the McCarthy Report, it is clear that the Government has lost any residual trace of credibility on restoring our economy and public finances to good health," he said.

"Coming on top of the Nama gamble to bail out the banks and developers it exposes the indecisive and self-serving style of governance that has brought our economy to its knees."

He said the Government had all summer to consider the McCarthy report and now has two months "to prepare the most important Budget ever drafted".

"Given that the Taoiseach has confirmed that the Commission on Taxation Report has effectively been shelved, how exactly is this shambolic Government planning to cut the enormous, and growing, deficit?"

In a statement this afternoon, Mr Gilmore said the attempt by the Tánaiste "to distance herself" from An Bord Snip recommendations and a "statement of rebuke" from the Minister for Finance "is an indication of the disarray in Government".

"Since the report was published certain government ministers have tried to distance themselves from the recommendations despite the fact that many of these did not originate with members of the Bord but were based on submissions made by the Department of Finance and other government departments. It is the government that has driven the cuts agenda from the very beginning and the whole purpose of the Bord Snip process was to provide them with political cover," Mr Gilmore said.

"If Mary Coughlan genuinely believes that that there are many aspects of the report 'that do not make sense', then there is an obligation on her spell out which particular recommendations she feels make no sense and those she regards as making sense."

Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism Martin Cullen and Minister of Community, Rural Gaeltacht Affairs Eamon Ó Cuiv have both previously criticised the report's recommendation that the functions of their department should be transferred to other departments.

Earlier in the Dáil, Mr Gilmore extended his sympathies to the family of Paddy Barry, who died following a burglary at his Waterford home, and said the death brought into focus the fear that many elderly people have due to anti-social behaviour and criminal activity.

He said that fear would be exacerbated by a report this week that stated one in seven prisoners were currently out on temporary release "largely because the Government has made a mess of prison places".

He told TDs the Shanganagh facility for young offenders had been closed in his own constituency and that he would call for it to be reopened but it has been sold to a developer.

Earlier this week, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has said that "dramatic increases" in the number of sentenced prisoners were leading to overcrowding and that temporary release had been used to reduce numbers in times of serious overcrowding.

Addressing the Dáil yesterday, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said there were currently 545 prisoners on temporary release, representing 12 to 13 per cent of the prison population.