Taoiseach calls on 'spirit of 1916' to lift gloom
Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night invoked the heroes of the 1916 Easter Rising in a plea to the nation to beat the economic recession.
He was speaking without a script at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce event, where he had made a major impact a year previously.
Mr Cowen spoke of the need to maintain a "strong sense of values" and "one community to tackle the economic crisis. He said it was important for people to be able to tell their children that they had looked beyond their own self-interest when challenged.
"And said (to them) yes, here is a country that's worth working for and building and one that we can say in 2016 when we get to O'Connell Street and look up to those men and women of idealism who gave us the chance to be the country we are, yes, we didn't fail our children and most importantly we didn't fail our country either," he said.
His reference to the forthcoming 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising was the most rousing part of Mr Cowen's 20-minute speech, which drew applause from the 495 business people in the Four Seasons Hotel in Dublin.
"That can do, that win-win attitude is what we need more than ever," he said.
Mr Cowen returned several times to the theme of community, saying that there was a need to recognise the role of the public sector and the private sector.
"If we don't come through as one community, but rather as a divided community, don't expect the same quality of life you would otherwise expect. This country is too small for those sort of phoney confrontations," he said.
Mr Cowen was speaking after the Dublin Chamber of Commerce president Peter Brennan had praised him for restoring the public finances and "facing down the public-sector trade unions".
But he extended an olive branch to trade unions who are currently engaged in a work to rule by praising them and the employers for their role in winning the second Lisbon Treaty referendum last year.
Mr Cowen insisted his Government was taking decisions "without fear or favour" which were in the common good and were in the "best interests of this country".
"The only interest that concerns me is the national interest," he said. Mr Cowen acknowledged there had been 130,000 jobs lost in the past year and warned there would be more "casualties" in the business sector. But he said there were still 1.85 million people at work, which compared well to the 1980s when there was a workforce of one million and interest rates were 20pc.
"Never to succumb to those who would suggest that we don't have the capacity, the brains, the ingenuity, the determination to overcome and provide a living for people in our own country. We can and we will do that," he said.
Mr Cowen also mounted a staunch defence of his Government's record over the past decade.
He said it was wrong to suggest that the economic boom had just been about domestic demand fuelled by the construction industry "and nothing else". For example, exports had doubled from €78bn to €154bn between 2000 and 2008, he said.