| 12.7°C Dublin

Michael Brennan: Mrs Thatcher's secret admirers in the embattled Coalition cabinet

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore might not like to admit it – but they are currently implementing many of Margaret Thatcher's most controversial policies.

While neither man would ever declare "there is no such thing as society", they would have got Ms Thatcher's firm approval for selling off state assets, cutting public sector numbers and charging people for local services with a property tax.

Here are some of the key 'Thatcherite' policies being pursued by the Government.

Privatisation of state assets

During her time in government, Margaret Thatcher was responsible for the privisation of more than 50 state-owned companies. That included British Steel, British Gas, British Airways, Jaguar and phone company BT. Under pressure from the troika, the Government here is going to sell off €3bn of state assets, including Bord Gais Eireann's energy business, ESB's "non-strategic" power generation capacity and the remaining 25pc stake in Aer Lingus.

The National Lottery licence currently held by An Post is going to be auctioned off for 20 years and even the country's forests are up for grabs – with the harvesting rights being put on the market. The Government has insisted that half the proceeds will go to job creation projects and the other half to paying down our €192bn national debt.

Clashing with the unions

Thatcher famously engaged in a brutal year-long battle with striking miners in 1984/5 and brought in lots of changes to employment legislation. The response from unions here was to engage with government in social partnership – which was seen as a way of ensuring that the bitter clashes in Britain were avoided.

But this Government is now at loggerheads with nurses, gardai, teachers and other public sector workers as a result of the pay cuts and extra working hours in the new Croke Park deal. The Government is also cutting 25,000 jobs from the public sector – a slimming down of the State that Mrs Thatcher would surely have approved of.


Mrs Thatcher had far more faith in the private sector and believed that it had a more business-like approach which would deliver huge savings. A big part of this was to be achieved by outsourcing work to the private sector. Under the current Government, the running of the new helpline for third-level student grant applications has been outsourced to a private company, Abtran in Cork. The same company was also given the task of running the property tax helpline. And Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin's department is investigating the possibility of hiring private sector debt collectors.

Slimming down local government

Mrs Thatcher got rid of the Greater London Council and the six metropolitan councils. But here, Environment Minister Phil Hogan is leaving her for dust by abolishing 80 town councils and reducing the number of councillors from 1,627 to 950.

Looking for more money back from Europe

Mrs Thatcher fought a lengthy battle in Europe to win "our money back". Her complaint was that the British government was paying in too much of its money and getting too little back. This was never a problem for Ireland, which has always got far more than it ever paid in. But due to the €64bn ploughed in by Irish taxpayers into the banks, the Government has been waging a determined campaign to get back more of "our money" from other EU countries – principally Germany. Like Mrs Thatcher, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been bringing it up at summit after summit – and has had to cope with a similar number of rejections.

But let's hope on this one that he succeeds, as Mrs Thatcher did in 1984 when she got a permanent budget rebate (refund) for Britain.

The community charge

This is where the Government must be most fearful of the Thatcher legacy. Back in 1987, she pushed ahead with the introduction of a "community charge" on each adult person living in a house – more popularly known as the poll tax.

There were huge protests about the unfairness of the tax and around 30pc of people never paid it. Sound familiar? It severely dented her political popularity and she was eventually ousted by her own cabinet. Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore will be hoping that the property tax – currently being rolled out across the country – will not have the same impact on their careers.

But as they stick grimly to their policies, they certainly believe in one of Mrs Thatcher's most famous pronouncements – "There is no alternative".

Irish Independent