Bertie Ahern has told Dáil Éireann that 2008 will be "a year of tight management of the economy, particularly on expenditure".
In response to a question from Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach said that figures for the last quarter of 2007 show "a substantial reduction in capital gains tax" (in the region of 40%) and "a slowing in the construction sector". He said it showed that development deals had dropped dramatically.
But the economy was still "close to target" in areas like manufacturing and exports, and the financial sector was "weathering global fluctuation", Mr. Ahern declared. Insisting that the economic forecasts were "not all doom and gloom", he said it simply showed some difficulties for this year.
He also announced that unemployment would increase this year, mainly in the construction sector and related service areas. But the government would "do what it had to do" as the year progressed "to keep the country strong".
Well, these were interesting words. They show that the Taoiseach knows very well that the seven fat years are over and the "Celtic Tiger" is dead. But nevertheless he likes us not to worry about it, as he does not worry himself. Because as long as the majority of Irish people are kept in the perpetual ignorance that Fianna Fáil created as their political remedy for everything, we will think that "it'll be alright", while Bertie keeps getting away with the things he cannot remember.
For anyone with even a little bit of common sense it has been clear for quite some time that we will have to tighten our belt and live in future without the large EU handouts Irish governments have welcomed and got used to for more than 30 years. And that we will have to develop a new level of competitiveness, since our original attraction - plenty of young and educated people in a nice and cheap country - has disappeared. We are now a rich country with extremely high prices, high wages for the top earners and subsequently a high-society lifestyle in Dublin. For the bosses this is very attractive.
But down the country there are still many people who live in poverty. The infrastructure is in tatters, traffic is horrible and prices are almost as high as in Dublin. People like the Tanaiste and Minister for Finance Brian Cowen, who comes from a rural area in the Midlands, knows this a lot better than the Taoiseach.
Perhaps it is time now for him to take charge of the country and leave Bertie Ahern to sort out his memory losses and his private financial affairs. No matter what happens, Bertie will have no more problems. He is now the best-paid head of government in the world, and even in retirement he would be a very wealthy man.
The phrase "in the national interest" has been used quite often in contemporary Irish politics, by different politicians and parties. Perhaps it was even used too much. But this time I think it is appropriate to use it at least once more.
It would be in the national interest if Bertie Ahern would hand over the reigns of power rather sooner than later, especially as we expect a year of tight management.
Maybe FF could learn a lesson or two from the DUP up North. Their leading members sent a very frank letter to Ian Paisley some days ago, expressing their displeasure with his leadership style, the shenanigans of his son, Ian Jr. and the constant family favouritism. Less than 24 hours later Ian Paisley announced that he would resign as First Minister in May.
The Emerald Islander