Parties clash over Cowen's first 100 days as Taoiseach


LEADING FIGURES in the Government and Opposition clashed yesterday over Taoiseach Brian Cowen's record during his first 100 days in office.

As the Taoiseach passed the symbolic milestone yesterday following his appointment on May 7th, Fine Gael and Labour both attacked his handling of the Lisbon referendum, the economic downturn and the failed national pay talks.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny claimed that failure had been the hallmark of Mr Cowen's first 100 days as Taoiseach.

"Brian Cowen has led Ireland into a recession and presided over the worst deterioration in the public finances in the history of the State.

"From a general government surplus of 2.9 per cent of GDP in 2006, the country is now facing the prospect of a deficit of over 3 per cent this year - a deterioration of over €10 billion in just two years. This is unprecedented," said Mr Kenny, who added that the turnaround happened when Mr Cowen was minister for finance.

He also criticised the package of measures announced last month by Mr Cowen and Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan to address the economic downturn.

"The Government is resorting to the bad old habits of borrowing from future generations to pay for its current excesses and waste."

Mr Kenny also blamed Mr Cowen for the loss of the Lisbon Treaty referendum. The Taoiseach had made a serious error by "his refusal to engage in meaningful co-operation with the main Opposition parties".

Labour's spokeswoman on the environment Joanna Tuffy said Mr Cowen's first 100 days were the "most undistinguished of any Taoiseach in the history of the State".

She highlighted what she said was a "particularly poor performance" in the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the addition of 40,000 people to the live register; the rise in inflation; the rapid deterioration in State revenues; and the break-down of the social partnership talks.

"Mr Cowen had the potential to be a decisive and innovative Taoiseach. However, we have not seen any sense of vision or a single new or original idea from Mr Cowen or any of his ministerial colleagues since May 7th."

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern dismissed the Opposition criticism and accused Mr Kenny of being a "failed politician".

"It's typical infantile policies. They only criticise by press release," he told The Irish Times.

"They were rejected at the last election on the basis of the people looking at what the alternative was when everybody knew we were going into more difficult economic circumstances."

He defended Mr Cowen's and the Government's record, saying that Ireland continued to have a strong economic base.

He cited as evidence the statistic that 4 per cent of all trade in services in the world derived from this country.

"We have the lowest national debt in Europe. We have the highest infrastructural spend. Inflation is coming down.

"We are doing our level best to deal with the situation, and our response has been corrective action for this year's current spend."