Taoiseach in staunch defence of his record


TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen accused the Opposition of rewriting history and issuing “bare-faced denials” about their own record of fiscal policy.

The Government won the division by 82 votes to 77 when the almost six-hour debate on the motion of confidence in Mr Cowen ended last night.

Opening the debate, the Taoiseach said he was “sorry” about the outcomes of the financial crisis, but he would not accept there was “malign, bad faith on my part” as minister for finance.

In another staunch defence of his own record, he told the Dáil that: “Of course I regret and am sorry about the outcomes in relation to what has happened now”.

But he said no one should suggest there were “people in this House who were predicting the imminent financial and economic collapse that we saw in the developed world in 2008”.

The confidence motion was in response to a Fine Gael motion of no confidence in Mr Cowen following the publication of the two independent reports on the banking crisis, which concluded that many of the problems were home-grown.

But Mr Cowen said: “The true burden of responsibility emerges as quite broad and it extends to insufficiently critical external surveillance institutions. Fiscal decisions were taken in the context of a boom in revenues.” He added that bank reports “conclude that the major responsibility for Ireland’s banking crisis lies with the directors and senior management of the banks. Anyone who denies that has not read the reports or is being deliberately mischievous.”

The Taoiseach was not abdicating “my responsibility as a minister in relation to any work I have done. But I will not accept that there was malign, bad faith on my part in relation to doing that job.” He was “not prepared to accept that others who at the time described my budgets as being measly, scrooge-like, hopelessly inadequate, can now come into the House and suggest that we were spending too much”.

He said that: “if one could look with the benefit of hindsight, if one could reasonably expect that this was going to happen, of course we would have presumed a more restrictive fiscal policy in the years previous to that”.

But he stressed that “the optimism there was about this economy was shared by all” and the Opposition’s fiscal policy was “less restrictive” than the Government’s.

Describing Opposition criticism as an “attempt to rewrite history”, he said: “It serves no purpose, is intellectually dishonest” and it took away from their credibility. He also criticised current Fine Gael and Labour policies and said “they are more about chasing popularity than confronting the reality”.

Fine Gael said at their national conference that they would be calling for a €2 billion adjustment in the budget. This put them in conflict with the €3 billion adjustment agreed with the European Commission.

He said Labour sought an increased fiscal stimulus that “would simply enlarge our deficit further and call into question our ability to access continued funding”.

“Were the Opposition to implement such proposals they would decimate the hard-won credibility which the country has now gained internationally. I believe that adopting such a budgetary stance would undermine this country’s ability to pursue our economic strategy internationally and would ultimately undermine our economic recovery.”

The Taoiseach also focused on the Government’s approach to the crisis and said “while painful, the tough decisions we have taken are working. I believe that we have reached a turning point in our economy and the challenge we now face is to drive on with this approach so we can get more people back to work as quickly as possible.” He added: “Other countries are now facing up to their difficulties as we have already done. It is clear that our determination to move early and decisively to address our public finances has generated approval and confidence abroad from which we continue to benefit.”