Taoiseach gives upbeat assessment on economy at party meeting

Fianna Fáil meeting attended by Green Party leader in a political first

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin held separate parliamentary party meetings on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Maxwells

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Taoiseach Micheál Martin held separate parliamentary party meetings on Wednesday evening. Photograph: Maxwells

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said that Ireland’s economic recovery from Covid has been quicker and more dramatic than any other EU member and that the number of people employed was now higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Speaking to his parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night Mr Martin gave an upbeat assessment of the economy saying that the latest labour force survey showed that Ireland had more people working now than before Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

He said there were also 30,000 vacancies in quarter three of 2021 compared to 17,000 in the same period of 2019.

He told Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators that exports in particular had really strengthened in the latter half to the year and were now at pre-pandemic levels.

He also said that revenues to the State in 2021 were “exceptionally buoyant’ and that VAT and income tax receipts were now at 2019 levels.

“The budget deficit is smaller than was forecast [earlier this year] and will be one of the smallest in the EU,” he told colleagues.

“Our prudent management of the public finances gives us the fiscal room to manoeuvre to support people, communities and our society.”

The meeting was also attended by Minister for Climate Action, Communications and Transport Eamon Ryan who is also the leader of the Green Party. It was the first time a Fianna Fáil meeting had been addressed by a senior member of another political party.

In the run-up to the meeting, Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators were expecting a showdown with Mr Ryan over issues like roads, agricultural emissions, as well as just transition in the midlands.

While the issues all came up during a prolonged discussion, which was interrupted by Dáil votes, the exchangers were said to be convivial and constructive.

Offaly TD Barry Cowen challenged Mr Ryan on what he said was a failure in just transition for the midlands and particularly delays in providing €85 million in EU funding. Mr Cowen told the Minister that the funding should be targeted at the counties most impacted by the end of harvesting by Bord na Móna: Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Roscommon, Galway, Laois and Kildare.

Several TDs including Clare TD Cathal Crowe and Mr Cowen also brought up the issue of retrofitting saying Mr Ryan’s department should be doing more to incentivise householders to start the process of improving insulation and energy efficiency in their homes.

Green MEP letter

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has criticised a letter sent by Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe which raised concern about banks lending to young farmers.

Mr Varadkar told a meeting of Fine Gael TDs and Senators that Mr Cuffe was “wrong” to single out the sector.

Mr Cuffe reportedly wrote to bank executives last month raising concern at reports that large loans were being given to young farmers to expand their cattle herds due to the impact this form of farming had on carbon emissions.

The letter has been criticised by Carlow-Kilkenny Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan and it was discussed at a private meeting of the party on Wednesday evening.

Mr Varadkar told his parliamentary party it was “wrong to single out this sector” and that Fine Gael wants to encourage more people into farming. He said some farmers may require borrowing to do so, or upgrade, modernise their farms to make them more sustainable and his party will always support the farming sector.

A Green Party statement said: “Ciarán Cuffe wrote to the banks on this matter in his capacity as an MEP. The party was not aware of the letters.”

It added: “The Green Party believes that every sector of society has to face up to the climate challenge. “Financing from banks can play a key role in supporting innovation and the transition to more sustainable practices in farming and it is young farmers who can lead the way on this into the future.”

Separately Mr Varadkar told the Fine Gael meeting that the return to service of two power stations — Huntstown and Whitegate — means that there will be no blackouts this winter. There had been concern about possible electricity outages last autumn.

Business supports

On Covid-19, the meeting was told that an announcement on business supports was expected on Thursday. Last week Mr Varadkar said there would be a reformed Covid Response Support Scheme (CRSS) to help businesses impacted by renewed Covid-19 restrictions.

At a press conference earlier on Thursday Mr Varadkar said of the proposals: “We are trying to get it right.

“There is a Government decision made already that allows him a degree of flexibility around the things that the business are concerned about, which is you know the cap for example in the turnover rule.”

He said the Government wanted to target the financial support to those companies that needed it the most in the hospitality, events and arts sectors.

He said that even if the money was not released until next week or the week after it would be backdated to the date when the restrictions were imposed

“It’s coming and I want to reassure people in the sector that that this financial support is coming their way.”