FIANNA FÁIL TD for Carlow-Kilkenny John McGuinness has defended thesevere cuts to social welfare and public sector pay to be introduced following last week’s Budget. McGuinness did, however, express regret that the Budget did not contain a greater stimulus package for job creation.
The Kilkenny city-based politician conceded that the Budget was a “very difficult one” for the Government, “but one it couldn’t avoid in terms of stabilising the public finances. It was a budget that asked everyone, including those on social welfare, to make a contribution – and hopefully this will speed up the process of recovery.
“The Budget was difficult on everyone and not just the public sector, it was tough on social welfare recipients too,” the Deputy said. “I think the electorate would probably be generally upset for any budget of this kind, but on balance it was about getting the country back into order again. I think the public will see the sense in what we have done, if things begin to come right again.”
Deputy McGuinness expressed some satisfaction with the manner in which the public sector pay cuts were being applied, telling the Kilkenny People that he was “particularly pleased that they’ve tackled the rates of pay at the top levels and applied a higher percentage of deduction.”
He was also pleased with the attempts to earn revenue from Irish people living abroad, but earning more than €1m per year, explaining that he had “advocated this from the start – to start from the top down. From the state of our economy I think that was needed to be done.”
While last week’s wholesale cuts in public service pay packets immediately reversed many of the gains made by those workers under the benchmarking process, McGuinness felt that workers in the public and private sectors needed to be treated equally. “Benchmarking was about comparing the public and private sectors – and in the public sector we now have a 12.5% rate of unemployment,” he said.
“In the good times it connected public workers to [the conditions of] the private sector, and in the bad times it has to do the same.”
In general, Deputy McGuinness believed that the cost-cutting measures employed by the Government have been fair and treated all sectors of society fairly equally, and rejected any notion that the Budget had been particularly tough on any individual sector.
“The Budget has asked everyone to help out – people from all sectors have had to take cuts, from between four and 25 per cent. Everyone’s been asked to make a contribution to a greater or lesser degree. There isn’t any one sector that’s had it tougher than others.”
Fine Gael senator John Paul Phelan has condemned what he saw as Government inaction in helping the young unemployed, which he fears will trigger a new wave of mass emigration.
“There are 2,785 young people under 25 out of work in Carlow and Kilkenny. The Budget did little or nothing to offer them any glimmer of hope. A new wave of emigration is upon us – we will once again be exporting our brightest and our best,” said the senator.
“This prospect looms large over countless families gathering together for Christmas this year. It is not only bad for our young people; it is also heartbreaking for their families, their communities, for GAA and soccer clubs and the country at large.”
Senator Phelan felt the Government were “turning a blind eye to youth unemployment, making little or no effort to stimulate job creation, while slashing jobseekers’ payments to those aged under 25. Its message to young people is clear: leave Ireland.” Senator Phelan argued that while Fine Gael had proposed a series of measures to address the issues of youth unemployment, the Government had ignored them “and has failed to replace them with anything positive themselves. Economic recovery requires innovative leadership, not wishful thinking from a Government blatantly out of touch with reality.”
Party colleague Phil Hogan described the cuts as a “brutal blow” and said Fine Gael would be proposing amendments to the Finance Bill this week.
Deputy McGuinness, however, insisted that the Budget’s priority had to be “stabilising the economy”, but conceded that he would have liked to see a “reform of politics, and of how we do business [in the Oireachtas]”. He also argued the case to give a “greater opportunity” to Ireland’s talented public servants to lead the country out of the current economic problems.
“The public sector is packed with good people,” he explained, “and we need to explore ways of allowing them share their talents.”