Saturday 24 February 2018

Morning after night before: the Taoiseach's interview in full

Taoiseach Brian Cowen would never have expected a standard interview on live radio to generate such interest. But the slurring tone, stumbling over words and lack of coherent responses combined to make his RTE 'Morning Ireland' interview with Cathal Mac Coille (left) infamous. Here we reprint the entire transcript of the interview.

Cathal Mac Coille: "Welcome back to Galway, Fianna Fail's autumn gathering is continuing today and we have just been joined by party leader Brian Cowen. Taoiseach, good morning."

Brian Cowen: "Good morning Cathal."

Q: "And thanks for coming over before your breakfast. Now, we all expected €3bn worth of cuts in one shape or another in the Budget. Now we hear it may be more, what is going on?"

A: "There is nothing going on, I just think the Minister for Finance is clarifying the fact that €3bn is at least the figure that we have to deal with.

"I think from our point of view what the whole estimates campaign will be about is, as they begin now, as he speaks the minister is dealing with that issue and ensuring that the markets are very clear and the European Commission. Our own electorate are very clear that this is the range of adjustment that has to be dealt with."

Q: "But right now, as you know, you have an electorate which are just really worried and depressed about the way things are going and they expected this figure of €3bn, you have the markets, you have Brussels, you have the IMF who have been criticising the Government for not being more specific about what is coming. And in the middle of all this, the Government says, well, €3bn is indicative it might be more, it might be the same. Well, are you just softening us up or what is going on?"

A: "No, well I think it is important, and we've been discussing this yesterday and today here in our own think-in, to recognise the strengths of the Irish economy as well as we try to ensure we deal with the fiscal problem, and and and, there is no question but that any government in Ireland has to close the gap between what is being spent and what is coming in from taxpayers.

"It is not a sustainable position and people understand that actually and know it. What I have been emphasising, what we have all been emphasising are the strengths of our economy and what is the base on which we can grow and recover. The real issue for us has been having dealt with the sort of economic tsunami in 2008 and 2009, we have stabilised the situation, our budgetary plans are on target."


Q: "Yes, but we don't know what they are. It was going to be €3bn, now it might be more."

A: "No, I think. . ."

Q: "But what are you. . . You know about the need for certainty and you know of difficulties in relation to Anglo Irish Bank, and here you are or your Finance Minister coming in and, you know, opening the door to who knows what. It could be €3bn, it could be €4bn. So can you give any certainty?"


A: "No, I think with respect the media are getting into word games here. I think it is important that we avoid them; what we are talking about is dealing with the EU plans that we have to cut our deficits in line with what we have said, and as Brian Lenihan has been saying, the minimum of what we are talking about is €3bn. He is now entering an estimates campaign with his ministers, he is setting out very clearly the seriousness of our intent and should there be any doubt about, either at home or abroad, that this Government is not committed to dealing with the plans that it has agreed. He is making it very clear that we will deal with them."

Q: "Would you hope to cut more if you could?"

A: "Well, unfortunately I have been looking at the Fine Gael policies as far as I can decipher them and others indeed, and they are suggesting that the adjustment would be on the expenditure side totally. That would be. . ."


Q: "Would you like to cut more than €3bn if you could, if that was feasible?"

A: "Look, we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that a fiscal stability is returned to the country over a period of time, it won't be done overnight. This year's Budget will not solve the problem in any event, in terms of whether it is €3bn, or €3.1bn or €3.2bn or anything else, and I think that it is important that people understand that for every €5 we are spending we are taking in €3 in. . . in Exchequer returns."

Q: "Can you rule out anything by the way, can you rule out €4bn?"

A: "We are not talking. . . mmm . . . about adjustments of that nature. What we are talking about insuring that people understand that this Government is determined to meet the agreements it has reached with the European Commission and to do so in a way that is credible and is making sure that we deal . . .


Q: "In rough terms are we talking €3bn or €3.5bn?"

A: "Sorry, look Cathal, you are long enough in the game to know that when we are starting our estimates campaign, the Minister for Finance is making it very clear, that the €3bn figure is not an illusory figure. . . it is the basis upon which we are going to discuss these terms."

Q: "And, it won't be €4bn?"

A: "I don't expect it will be €4bn, no. Because, but I mean, I don't want to be anticipating or pre-empting discussions which are about to take place between ministers."

Q: "Okay, one of the key elements of the Government's strategy, the Croke Park agreement was criticised earlier in the programme by Leo Varadkar, who said very little had been done to implement it. Now, when are we going to see the kind of flexibility, the mobility, the big change in the way the civil service, the public service works, that that agreement promised?"

A: "Well, what is going to happen now, of course, is what people need to know for next year. We are beginning discussions at the moment as to what our budgets will be for next year. And what we have to do is align the estimates campaign with the industrial relations agenda and what that'll involve is for every department will be setting out based on the amounts it will be able to have next year, it will be dealing with its own management and its own personnel."


Q: "But when is the question, Taoiseach?"

A: "During the course of this estimates campaign that will be ending up with a situation where the allocations that will be made will require the implementation in many respects of the Good Friday. . . of the, sorry, the Croke Park agreement which is about redeployment which is about better work practices. . ."


Q: "When will that happen? Next year?"

A: "Of course it will begin next year. We have signed the agreement."

Q: "A couple of other things in relation to yourselves and the Greens. One is, and it is in the revised Programme for Government, the agreement to bring in legislation on corporate donations, have you reached agreement with them? When are we going to see it?"

A: "Again that is. . . that is legislation that's in place. . . sorry, that is legislation that is in preparation. The whole question of dealing with that is under consideration, it will come through government channels as normal and see what way we can address this issue."

Q: "Are corporate donations going to be banned as the Greens said they want?"

A: "Of. . . I mean. . ." (fades out)

Q: "And, given that it is in the Programme for Government. . ."

A: "As I say, the legislation, if you look at the Programme for Government, on the basis of what can be achieved based on the issue and we will deal with it in the normal way."

Q: "So you can't say anything certain about it in other words even though it is in the Programme for Government?"

A: "Government decisions will be made based on the Programme for Government."

Q: "Right yes, the by-elections, you know you have been criticised, but are you holding the by-elections and the children's rights referendum and the mayoral election for Dublin on the same day next year?"

A: "The children's rights referendum or the mayoral election and the by-elections issue, these are not sort of convergent issues, these are issues that will be dealt with based on their own merits. The children's referendum issue, we have eh. . . mmm, a report from the committee involved a lot of detailed work has to go into that as to how we can deal with it and what way we can deal with it.

Q: "Did you ever think, by the way, of going to John Gormley and saying, I know you think this is a good idea but come on another layer, another car, another office another set of executives around him. This is not the time?"

A: "The issue on that is again is it is a Programme for Government commitment, there are legislation and preparation discussions to take place with cabinet. We'll discuss them further and there has been discussions going on between Fianna Fail and the Green Party on that issue in the context of local government reform generally."

Q: "Do you think it is a great idea?"

A: "The. . . The Government is committed to that proposal in the Programme for Government and like any other commitment it has to be dealt with in that case."

Q: "Is it a great idea?"

A: "I think it is a good idea if you can bring together a co-ordinated mayor in position that will deal with the whole planning and other issues right throughout the Dublin city and county."

Q: "Final question, Taoiseach. We spoke earlier in the programme to people who voted Fianna Fail in the last election, some of them will vote for you again, some of them absolutely won't. One of those who wouldn't was a young person in Galway who said: 'I've no future as a result of what they have done, I've just graduated, I've no job prospects, I'm just wandering around the streets of Galway.'

"Now they don't all have degrees but there are over 400,000 of those people, you and Enda Kenny can argue the usual political kind of slanging match about whether it will take 10 or 20 years. What can you say to the 400,000 of those people who see no prospect, short of emigrating, of something changing in their lives?"

A: "No there is hope for the future Cathal. . . the whole purpose of our budgetary policy is to stabilise the situation after the economy contracted by 9pc in 2009. We've stabilised the situation this year and we have the prospects of growth, which has been spoken about not only by the ESRI, but by international people like the IMF and others.

"This country will get back on track, there are no soft option politics available to us, yes there are difficulties ahead but I want to assure him and others. . . the person you were speaking about, excuse me, herself and others. Yes, there is a future for this country on the basis of growth, on the basis of recovery, on the basis of doing what is necessary to get the show back on the road.

Q: "But on the likely maths she might as well emigrate there. . ."

A: "Defeatism Cathal, will not solve this problem. Whether it is in your organisation or anywhere else, defeatism will not get us out of this situation. But what will get us out of the situation is a preparedness by the Government to do what is necessary to get this country back on track.

"Yes, there will be cutbacks, there will be things that will have to be done. There will be new ways of having to deliver services, we all have to get in behind it and make sure we do it. Because it is exactly about that by the way, it is about how do we secure our kids' futures and that is why we have to go ahead and do what we have to do."

Cathal Mac Coille: "Taoiseach Brian Cowen, thank you for talking to us."

Irish Independent

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