Cowen attacks call for 'new faces' in Cabinet

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen yesterday attacked a foreign credit rating agency which called for "new faces" in Government to solve the crisis in the public finances.

The controversial comments were made by Standard & Poor's London-based credit rating analyst Frank Gill during an early morning radio interview.

During a heated Dail exchange yesterday, Mr Cowen questioned whether Mr Gill knew as much about Irish politics as international finances.

"I just note that's his job regarding credit rating -- I don't know what he knows about Irish politics or what the choices are," he said.

There were further calls for Standard & Poor's to stay out of Irish politics, with Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton saying she had listened "with some astonishment" to comments about the composition of the Government.

"That is not any business of a foreign rating agency," she said.


Last night, Standard & Poor's was backtracking on the comments made by Mr Gill claiming that his statement was "misunderstood".

Ms Burton criticised the record of credit ratings agencies like Standard & Poor's, who were found to have given "AAA" ratings to asset security products which subsequently fell in value by millions of dollars.

"These guys boosted everything on the way up but are negative about everything on the way down. They have some factors relevant to this country wrong and we have better prospects than the agency acknowledges," she said.

But in a different approach, Fine Gael seized on Mr Gill's comments, with party leader Enda Kenny repeating them in the Dail and finance spokesman Richard Bruton saying it was time for a new Government.

"This would send a clear signal to the international markets that Ireland is under new management," he said.

On Monday, Standard & Poor's stripped Ireland of its prized "AAA" rating, which will make it more difficult and expensive for the State to borrow money. It said it had downgraded the state to "AA+" status, and given it a "negative" outlook, because it expected the economy to fare worse than the rest of the eurozone over the next five years.

Fianna Fail Dublin South East TD Chris Andrews said Standard and Poor's should "stick to their economics and statistics".

"The Irish people can determine if they want new faces in Government or not," he said.

In a Newstalk 106 'Breakfast Show' interview yesterday, Mr Gill said that the economic boom of the last four to five years had been built on rising house prices and cheap credit.

"In terms of the political situation, it's likely for there to be buy-in for what are probably going to be inevitable tax hikes in order to eventually stablise the debt to GDP ratio, you are probably going to need likely new faces in Government," he said, sparking the furore.