The following is based on the Address by Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Coughlan to the 72nd Fianna Fáil Ardfheis.
“Just like the wider public therefore, all of us in this room are, or someone close to us is, in some way affected by the current economic downturn. It could be the PAYE worker, anxious about the threat of redundancy hanging over her job,” says Ms Coughlan who spent last months scavenging across the country in search of new jobs launch ceremonies instead of working late nights in her office on how best to alleviate the crisis. Her job and the jobs of those her Government protects - the public sector workers - are not on the line.
“It could be the border shopkeeper, struggling to compete against his Northern neighbour,” says a Minister whose Government imposed increases in VAT and other business-impacting tax hikes that helped to push Irish consumers across the border.
“It has become clear that over the past two decades, our rate of growth and success has been such that, as a nation, we perhaps started to believe our own publicity. While the severity of the current global downturn was not predicted, our own exuberance in recent years has left our public finances, and our banks, more exposed to the whims of international money markets than may otherwise have been the case.”
Surely by ‘we’ Ms Coughlan means herself and the Governments in which she served over the years. The same Governments that produced and publicised the propaganda about our economy. That indulged in an orgy of waste on the back of stamp duty windfalls. That fueled these windfalls by tax breaks and restrictive planning practices. That wasted billions on projects that no one needed only to secure the votes of narrow interest groups. That were led by a person who declared publicly to be a socialist (aka tax-and-spend appeasenik of every political interest at the expense of the country) and whose integrity and honesty have been publicly questioned in the court of a Tribunal. Surely by ‘we’ she meant herself and her colleagues in senior ministerial positions?
“We will not shirk our responsibility when making tough decisions around controlling our public finances, stabilising our banking sector and implementing our strategy for recovery,” said Ms Coughlan whose Government has managed to evade any serious decisions on economy (from cutting spending to introducing a meaningful recovery plan) since it came into office in Summer 2008. The Minister who, in a moment of patent departure from reason, proposed last week that banks can benefit from 'business expertise' of Enterprise Ireland - an organization that by its own brief limitations has never been involved in managing businesses or even assisting a company with revenues in excess of €100mln.
So let us get to that unpalatable veiny single morsel of boiled-out beef in Ms Coughlan’s views.
“People must be confident that Fianna Fáil is solid in its resolve to secure their children’s futures on this island, through our commitment to education, training and the creation of good jobs.” In other words – there is nothing new in Mary’s thoughts beyond a feeble attempt at economic development policy the Government produced last Fall (reviewed here). But hold on, we already have, according to Mary-Brian-and-Brian spin, a highly educated world class labor force. FAS schemes for training have been expanded already – in December 2008 and again in January 2009 - despite that organization's comprehensive failure to even audit its own accounts.
And as far as creation of good jobs is concerned, well, take Mary’s words on this: “Delegates, it has fast become a politically expedient national pastime to run ourselves down and to oppose for opposition sake. It is a philosophy that professes ignorance of the so many positives that we have going for us on this island. These are the positives that saw me announce [Euro] 24 million in research funding to create the jobs of future on Wednesday; that had me announcing new jobs in Carlow on Thursday; and 134 new jobs in Shannon on Friday.”
Ahem, at say €60K a pop per annum for a ‘good job’ Ms Coughlan is whimpering about no more than 200-250 jobs being created in the environment where a weekly jobs loss is averaging ca 9,000!
But for Mary, “these are the positives that make Ireland the location of choice for the Googles, Facebooks, Ebays, Yahoos and Amazons of the world. So delegates, the dangerous spiral of negativity must stop.”
Indeed, Mary, we are a location of choice for transfer pricing. For now and not for long. All of these companies carry out primary R&D and core business activities outside of Ireland. And scores other multinationals are closing plants and laying off workers. Google itself is on the verge of transferring the handful of R&D staff it has here out of Ireland.
The Live Register published last month and the QNHS published last week (here) are a testament to the comprehensive failure of Ms Coughlan to secure competitive business environment for Ireland Inc. What is even more egregious in her remarks is that Ms Coughlan seem to have no time for an idea that Ireland needs to become something more than a tax clearance warehouse for the MNCs. That it needs competitive indigenous firms and competitive multinationals adding real value to this economy.
“As members of Fianna Fáil, we will remain steadfast in this commitment, irrespective of the temptation of short term political popularity.” I have commented on the idea of this Government’s steadfastness in its commitments to cut budgetary overspend before (see here), so without going into details, here is a summary: in July, September, October, December 2008, January and February 2009 the Government went on the record claiming the 2009 cuts will add up to €2bn on top of €440mln that was promised in savings for 2008. In the end, the Government is still (8 months since the original promise) walloping about implementing a cut of no more than €1.1bn in 2009 and has missed its savings target for 2008 by more than €700mln. Clearly, Ms Coughlan was out to lunch, oops - out launching new jobs - all this time since July 2008 to notice.
Mary used a promise of local elections as “an opportunity for Fianna Fáil, not only to address local issues, but to explain the seriousness of the situation facing our country…” to the voters.
I certainly hope FF backbenchers are not as daft as Mary thinks them to be. Imagine FF local council candidates knocking on the door of PAYE families who were skinned by Mary's Government and are facing a significant chance of losing one or even two wage earners, declaring ‘Man, Fianna Fail is here to tell you that things are hard!’ In light of Ms Coughlan’s speech her Government’s platform for local elections should be printed with ‘Don’t Panic!’ on its front cover followed by ‘Now, Panic!’ on the back.
Overall, Ms Coughlan’s speech was so devoid of any serious meaning that it confirms her comprehensive failure as a Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
As a Minister for Enterprise, Ms Coughlan has managed to use the words ‘enterprise’, ‘firm’, ‘company’, ‘corporation’ and ‘plc’ zero times in her speech. She used the word ‘business’ only once in the context of a hypothetical reference to a small business owner only.
As a Minister for Trade, Ms Coughlan failed mention once our exports, exporters or trading sectors, she did not use words ‘imports’ or ‘trade’ or ‘investment’ (except for a reference to shares losses), nor the words relating to foreign exchange fluctuations or transport costs and infrastructure - all vital aspects of trade. She comprehensively failed to mention anything related to retail competition or policy, to planning, to development, local authorities charges, VAT, minimu wage, work permits, anything that forms a core of our country's competitiveness - her core job responsibility.
As a Minister for Employment she has managed to avoid the word ‘unemployment’ (and its derivatives), and used the word ‘jobs’ only in the context of the positions she either launched herself or provided funding for.
As a Minister in a democratically elected Government she has managed to denounce the critics of her Government’s handling of this crisis at least twice, devoting absolutely none of her speech to covering her own Ministerial briefs.
In your words, Ms Coughlan, “the dangerous spiral of negativity must stop”. I agree. Lets do it by removing its cause - you, Minister!