Monday 20 November 2017

Taoiseach draws up jobs list to cash in on EU deal

Fionnan Sheahan and Lise Hand

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is ready to spring a wish list of job-rich projects on EU chiefs to cash in on a possible new growth plan for Europe.

He is drawing up the list, which would create thousands of jobs on road, rail, housing, school, health, broadband and water projects.

The Government will have details of capital investment projects at its fingertips if leaders strike a deal to kick-start economic growth.

EU leaders are coming under increasing pressure to pump money into stagnant economies amid growing opposition toward the cutbacks and tax hikes insisted on by Germany to balance the books.

Mr Kenny said yesterday he was "absolutely" confident there would be a deal on a stimulus package. If his prediction is correct and he gets a war-chest of EU funds, it will come as a major boost in his drive for a Yes vote in the EU fiscal treaty referendum on May 31.

However, ministers were cautious last night about raising any expectations of a windfall of fresh EU cash being injected into the economy.

And any new funds could come with strings attached

Mr Kenny will attend a meeting of EU leaders next week and will bring his own proposals on what he believes is necessary to give a stimulus to the Irish economy.

A growth package to accompany the EU fiscal treaty will be discussed when the incoming French president Francois Hollande meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel later this week.

Spending on infrastructure to create jobs and improve competitiveness will form a key part of Mr Kenny's proposals as the capital budget has been cut back dramatically. The Coalition is looking at various mothballed programmes so that medium-sized projects will be ready to roll if the cash is made available.

A government source said: "The Government will have to be ready. As part of your planning process, you would have to consider what you would do if funding became available. There is no shortage of projects. That is not the issue."

Grants from the EU structural funds, funding from the ECB and loans from the European Investment Bank are among the potential sources of investment.

But ministers were also cautious about talking up the chances of securing funding and warned anyone talking about the stimulus plan was "ahead of themselves".

No specific instruction has been issued to ministers to forward a list of projects that could avail of the funding but there are discussions within government circles about how the Coalition would respond as fast as possible to a stimulus plan.

"There is an awareness in Government we might as well be ready. There is a conversation around what to do if we were to get funding," a source said.

Confident

"But there is no list at present because there is no proposal on the table at EU level."

With just over two weeks to go in the referendum campaign, the Yes side has built up a substantial lead, and is ahead of the No side by 63pc to 37pc.

However, Mr Kenny said he was taking nothing for granted. "What is important here for everybody associated with the Yes campaign is to continuously explain to people the importance and the magnitude of the decision that has to be made."

Mr Kenny added that he was "absolutely" confident a stimulus package could be put together.

Irish Independent

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