Richard Boyd Barrett: Spring Economic Statement

DAILSpring Economic Statement


Richard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)

I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn for pointing out the Government’s quite deliberate and studied contempt for the Technical Group but I take heart from the fact that the senior Ministers felt the need to walk out of the Chamber. It brought to mind the motto of a great American journalist of Irish descent, Finlay Peter Dunne, also known as Mr. Dooley, and about whom James Joyce wrote poems, who was a political satirist in the 1930s in the United States. His motto was that our job is “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable”. When the senior Ministers walked out before we were due to speak it was precisely because they knew we would afflict the comfortable and they did not want to hear it. They do not want to acknowledge the points or give them respect but, to some extent, that, at least, is a testament to the impact of the points and arguments we are making on this side of House.

I want to point to one positive aspect of the spring statement. They has been a lot of waffle, as there often is in political and media debate, about the timing of this. I believe a spring statement is quite a good idea. It is quite useful to begin the budget debate early and to set out perspectives in order that we can debate them in the run in to the budget. My problem is not with the timing but with the substance of the spring statement and the rather nauseating tone of self-congratulation and triumphalism that has accompanied it. What we are really witnessing is a barrage of propaganda, aimed at constructing a mirage of economic recovery in the run in to the election that belies the obscene increase in the level of poverty and deprivation in Irish society; the fact that the recovery in employment is based on a further race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions for tens of thousands of workers in this country; an unprecedented housing and homelessness crisis that is bordering on the catastrophic; a disastrous situation in our public health system; the worst student-staff ratios in education anywhere in the European Union; and a disastrous collapse in investment in some of the key infrastructure that we need to have a genuine and sustainable economy and recovery.

One claim that I find ludicrous, and to which the Minister, Deputy Noonan, referred on a number of occasions in his statement, is that all of this and the policies being pursued and promised by the Government are moving us away from boom-bust economics, which we all want, but, ironically, it is doing exactly the opposite. The Government has singlehandedly and quite incredibly stoked up another property bubble within a few short years of the last property bubble that crashed the economy and beggared the nation. It is quite an achievement that following the previous Government having brought the economy and society to its knees by letting profiteers in property and in the banking industry off the leash and creating a property bubble this Government has managed to start the same process again within a few short years of that economic collapse. That is a remarkable achievement, but it is very frightening and worrying. The Government is putting in place precisely the ingredients that led to the last bubble and to boom-bust economics. It is congratulating itself on handing back the parts of the economy that we were forced to bail out to the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. The banks that we bailed out are now being sold off and handed back. We took all the pain of bailing them out. When we bailed them out we exercised no control whatsoever over what they had done in recent years and as soon as they start to make money again, we will hand them back to the very same people who crashed the economy, recreating the conditions for the collapse.

Similarly, we have the Siteserv scandal and what that opens up into, namely, the much bigger scandal of the same process happening in terms of the handing over of the assets of these banks that we bailed out back to the golden circle who helped crash the economy in the first place. It beggars belief. I do not know whether brown envelopes went back and forth or the exact nature of the relationship that led Denis O’Brien to get, between Siteserv, Topaz, the Beacon and Independent Newspapers, €450 million of debt written off by IBRC, Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland. Where was the concern for the moral hazard? When we were asking in 2012 while this was happening if people in unsustainable mortgage arrears could get a write-down to current market levels, the Government said it could not possibly do that because of the moral hazard involved. Where was the concern of the Minister, Deputy Noonan, for the moral hazard involved in giving the richest man in Ireland, Denis O’Brien, €450 million in debt write-downs from these banks that we had bailed out? It is extraordinary, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. We do not know who else got them but we have got hints from Mike Aynsley of the extent of the debt write-downs being handed out to those in the inner circle, the golden circle, the crony circle or whatever it was called, to the insiders and the pals, having regard to whatever was the exact nature of the relationship.

It is in stark and dramatic contrast to what was being said and done to ordinary citizens who were in mortgage distress and who were suffering under the vicious impact of cuts to social welfare, the housing budget, to incomes and to services for people with disabilities in 2012. We need to remember what this Government was doing to ordinary people in 2012 when these debts were being written down. I was looking back at my own comments about Siteserv and Denis O’Brien in 2012 and found it almost humorous. The Ceann Comhairle cut across me four times and told me that I was entering into dangerous territory. That is what he said – dangerous territory – and that I should stop talking about it. A few days later I got a letter from Denis O’Brien saying that I was abusing Dáil privilege. I think he mentioned his lawyers and the possibility that he would be talking to them about what was being said by Deputy Catherine Murphy, myself, Deputy Pearse Doherty and others in the Dáil in 2012. It has taken this long for the truth to come out but let us remember what was happening to ordinary people back in 2012 while these guys were getting their debts written off. That is the sickening part of all of this.

What we are actually seeing is a Government which is intensifying and accelerating the giveaway of this country’s assets, economy, enterprises and banks to a tiny elite of corporate vultures. There is no other word for them. The truth of what is happening, in terms of the economic policies of this Government, as has been alluded to already, is not to be found in the Government’s Spring Statement but in the rich list that was published last weekend in The Sunday Times. This is only the latest piece of evidence which follows on from a TASC report as well as the Credit Suisse global wealth report showing the same thing, namely that there has been an astonishing growth in the wealth of the tiny elite of wealthiest people in this country such that the 250 richest individuals now have €75 billion between them which is equivalent to more than 30% of our GDP. That is extraordinary, especially when one considers that the bottom 50% of our population has only €63 billion. The spectacular growth in the gap between the rich and poor has been accelerated by this Government. We will not address the injustice that has been inflicted on Irish citizens unless we have a redistributive tax policy that is willing to tax the wealth of the super rich in this country and take back some of the money they have taken from us, the corporate profits that have shot through the roof and the incomes of the very high earners and redistribute that money to finance economic equality through investment in the infrastructure and strategic enterprise we need to have a genuine and sustainable economic recovery that will not return us to the boom-bust cycle.

I hope the press and the media will begin to look into the concentration of wealth in Irish society, which this Government dismisses but the evidence for which is piling up. Economies go from boom to bust in a continuous cycle because a tiny number of un-elected and unaccountable people control all of the money. They can pull the plug on an economy at any time. Unless we address that wealth inequality, we will return to boom-bust and we are on the road to it again already.

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