Give both sides of your mouth a rest
The Opposition parties -- who claim to be ready for government -- have yet to outline their policies, says Willie O'Dea
LAST week's economic debate turned out to be more interesting than I had expected, particularly the contributions from backbenchers on both sides.
Whether the three per cent deficit can be achieved without deflating the economy to destruction depends almost exclusively on the level of growth in the Irish economy.
If the level of growth is not sufficient to enable us to do what we have promised to do, then it may be possible to acceptably stabilise the deficit at a higher level.
However, if the growth turns out to be in the higher range projected in the recent ESRI report then it may be possible not only to stabilise the deficit to three per cent by 2014, but to do so for much less than the €15bn figure put forward.
While some people got a bit hysterical (more about Michael Ring later), others like Mary Harney sought to bring a sense of perspective to our deliberations and remind us that we had come through worse back in the Eighties when we spent 25 per cent of all taxes on paying off our debt. This year the figure is 10 per cent, though it will creep up over the 14 per cent mark in the coming years.
She also made the point that while our economy is not as strong as it was -- it is now worth €160bn, a drop of about 20 per cent from its peak four or five years ago of €190bn -- it is still far better than it was in the Eighties or early Nineties.
Though there were some good individual inputs from the opposition benches, the main cry from most on their front benches was how unfair it is for the Government and the media to expect Fine Gael and Labour to set out their policies.
Eamon Gilmore put on his most serious expression and said we were expecting the Opposition to fix the nation's problems.
No, Eamon. Neither you nor Enda is expected to fix anything. It is a matter of everyone putting their cards on the table and telling the public what you propose rather than what you oppose.
There have been many calls for an end to "politics as usual" over the past few months. Well, that means ending the talking out of both sides of the mouth where parties say they favour greater general economies but then oppose specific cuts.
As I have said here before targets are not policies. Fine Gael and Labour's endorsement of the three per cent deficit by 2014 is welcome, but it needs to be backed up by something.
Gilmore and Kenny are forever calling for an immediate election -- but do they really want that? If Gilmore wants an election now why is he in no rush to find a running mate in his own constituency?
Surely, at this most critical time in our recent history, it is not too unreasonable to expect those who say they are ready, willing and able to immediately assume office to tell us what they plan to do if they get their way?
This brings me back to TD Michael Ring. While his joke about us renouncing independence and handing ourselves back to the Queen backfired, it at least had the merit of distracting attention away from the rest of his speech.
Lest I be accused of exaggerating, I will quote him directly. On the matter of Fine Gael doing what it has said it will do and setting out its four-year budgetary strategy, Fine Gael's frontbench spokesman on social protection said:
"Some journalists have suggested that Fine Gael should say what it would do in government. We will do so when we are in a position of power on the other side of the House and have ministers."
So much for FG or Deputy Ring putting policies to people and asking them to decide. But this was nothing compared to his views on how we got to where we are today. In his opinion: "The Irish Independent and its like, with their economic policies, has got us into this mess."
Is it any wonder the Opposition wants as little spotlight on them as possible?
Willie O'Dea is a Fianna Fail deputy for Limerick East