Opposition is talking nonsense, says Cowen
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen turned defence into attack yesterday in the wake of the savage Budget by criticising the rival policies of Fine Gael and Labour as incoherent "nonsense".
During rowdy scenes in the Dail, he questioned the speech-making skills of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny ("Who is writing this stuff?"), and accused him of "facing five different directions the same morning".
He also mocked the idea that Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was "the good guy", saying the average PAYE taxpayer had always fared worse when his party was in government.
Mr Cowen played down the fallout from the Budget and rumours of leadership heaves against him, and instead concentrated on highlighting the differences between the potential future coalition partners of Fine Gael and Labour.
"Let us not get into a stupid debate or descend into the foolishness of suggesting there is an alternative Government available to this country in the months ahead that will neither increase tax nor cut welfare during the course of the coming year. It is patent nonsense and it needs to be seen for what it is," he said. But his criticisms were dismissed by the parties as "the first shots of the General Election campaign".
During leaders' questions and the subsequent Budget debate, Mr Cowen mounted a strong defence of his Government's record.
He pointed out that the opposition parties were suggesting the country had "lost it all" due to the economic tsunami.
"Have we been knocking down the new hospitals? Are the new schools being closed? Have the extensions to all the basic infrastructure developments in our towns and villages throughout the country been closed up?
"The answer is 'No'. They have added to our competitiveness, and the people driving around the country today know this," he said.
But when Mr Cowen said that exports were performing strongly, Fine Gael Galway West TD Padraic McCormack shouted back: "Exporting people."
Mr Cowen went on to say almost 1,000 companies, including household names such as IBM, Google, eBay and Facebook, had chosen Ireland as the hub of their European operations.
"And so has the IMF," Fine Gael TD Noel Coonan retorted.
Mr Kenny criticised the Budget for containing booby traps and landmines that would go off economically and financially in families' houses over the next year.
"As one of the ministers said to me previously -- when one is on antibiotics, one becomes immune to things after 13 years. That is what is wrong with the Government. It is flattened, jaded, exhausted, out of ideas and out of time," he said.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the Budget was the itemised bill for the utter failure of Fianna Fail's economic mismanagement.
He attacked the "arrogance" of Fianna Fail, which he said came from being in government for 22 out of the past 24 years.
"That arrogance says to us that it does not matter what Fianna Fail did, it should never say sorry or never admit a mistake.
"It is an arrogance that says that only Fianna Fail can rule and that the opposition is always wrong. That arrogance was brought to a new level today," he said.