It is important when members of the Opposition speak that they should follow through on what their policy preferences would lead to in this country and what would be the consequences of their actions. It was interesting to listen to the previous speaker, Deputy Boyd Barrett. He gave lots of nuggets of information but he did not follow through on what would happen if his policies were adopted. To some degree he also distorted what has happened. In order for this country to recover we must first stabilise the economy and restore confidence in it. Only then will we see a significant growth in jobs. Anyone who has even the most basic understanding of economics knows that is the way it will be. Allowing insecurity to remain, killing off confidence in what is taking place and constantly espousing issues that will lead to lack of investment or people being fearful is no way to restore confidence and stability.
The Government has no intention of being a poster boy for austerity. I was a Member of the House in December 2010 when the IMF crossed over from the Merrion Hotel into the Department of Finance. There was a palpable sense of relief from the general public that someone would make decisions and do something for the country. Decisions entered into by the previous Government such as borrowing the money to recapitalise the banks were taken in the name of the Irish people. This is still a democracy and we let Governments make decisions on our behalf. If those decisions are wrong to some degree we are stuck with them and must negotiate our way out. It is simplistic to say the least that one would just walk away from one’s responsibilities, regardless of one’s responsibilities in life. One cannot just walk away from something because it no longer suits one. That is not the sort of society in which any of us want to live.
I heard it said recently that the money we are now borrowing is to pay back bondholders and to recapitalise the banks. That job has essentially been done. We are borrowing €1 billion a month to pay for public services. Let us imagine a scenario whereby Deputy Boyd Barrett is in government and it is his intention that we will no longer pay our debts as a country. He has not explained where the money would come from to pay for front-line services such as those provided by schoolteachers, nurses, doctors and gardaí. One could ask what the consequences of such a radical approach would be for the ordinary man and woman in the street. Some evidence is available in that regard. The example that is most often quoted is Argentina, which decided not to pay back its debts and it could not borrow money. As a result, it had to radically reduce the services it provided, including health and education. Public sector pay and pensions were cut. The people who suffered most in Argentina were the old, the more vulnerable in society and those who required health services and social welfare supports – the very people Deputy Boyd Barrett claims to support the most were the ones who suffered the most when the sort of policies he espouses were pursued.
Deputy Boyd Barrett is correct about one thing; Ireland is not Greece. I do not say that because we want to put down Greece. The people of Greece are currently going through an incredibly tough time. They have seen changes to pensions to the effect that anyone in receipt of a pension of more than €1,000 per month has received a cut of one fifth to it. If a similar approach were taken in this country where the reduction has only been 4% it would hit the most vulnerable people in society hard. I would not advocate such an approach in terms of a solution to how we would get ourselves out of the current crisis, not just because we are bound by the terms of the programme but because it is unsustainable in the long term for this country to borrow €1 billion a month to pay for the services we need. As elected Members, we must look to the future and make responsible decisions. We have an obligation to our children who are not of voting age, and those yet to be born, not to land them with a greater mess than has already been created by the previous Government. We cannot continue to borrow billions every year and expect our children to pay it back.
The vast majority of money we are currently borrowing is for public finances. That appears to be the case for the foreseeable future. There is a need to balance what we spend with what we can earn in the economy so that we can live within our means and not burden future generations. We must take into consideration that many of us in the House are in the same age group as others who are not as fortunate as we are and they will also require public sector pensions in years to come. We must consider how we will pay for them if we continue to borrow money.
Even though some of what Deputy Boyd Barrett said about the difficulties we are experiencing in this country and in Europe is true, his policy alternatives as to how we should deal with the issues do not stack up. Perhaps that is due to ideology or the belief that because he is in opposition he feels the need to take a contradictory approach to the Government. There is a need to take the approach being taken but we are open to hearing what others have to say in discussions on the matter. We hear much of the first half of what Deputy Boyd Barrett said about what is wrong and how awful it is from our party members and those of our coalition partners. What is important is the second half of the debate, namely, what we are going to do about it and how that stacks up under scrutiny. Unfortunately, that is where much of what the Deputy says does not stack up.
Deputy Boyd Barrett objected to the reference to the Federal Republic of Germany in the legislation. The Federal Republic of Germany has a strong constitution and before it gives out funding in the name of the German people it must ensure that it stands up to its democratic tests. That is the reason for such a reference; it is not because the people of Germany have a sense that they can control the rest of Europe. As someone who travelled to Germany with me last year, Deputy Boyd Barrett is well aware of how members of the German Parliament feel about what is happening in Europe. One of the issues that became crystal clear during our trip to Germany is that it does not have a problem with doing its best to get Europe out of the euro crisis; what it has a problem with is that the solutions that are arrived at do not result in us being back in the same position again in five or ten years’ time. That was the message I got from my five days in Germany. Deputy Boyd Barrett appears to see it as an attempt by Germany to take over the world. As I pointed out to him, that is not the reason for the reference to the Federal Republic of Germany in the legislation. The reason for the reference relates to its strong constitution and how the country deals with matters and spends taxpayers’ money.
Ireland encountered a problem because we had a massive construction bubble and the ensuing collapse in the economy meant that our public finances need significant restructuring. The alternatives proposed by Deputy Boyd Barrett to get us out of the mess such as burning bondholders and throwing the economy into confusion will not help to restore the jobs to which he refers. They will only make things worse. One of the important issues from this country’s point of view is that exports are important for us, as is our international reputation. In order to recover we must ensure we do nothing to damage them.
We must continue to attract international investment into this country and continue to restore our reputation so that people will feel this is a safe country with which to do business and will continue to invest here.
The more left wing Members of the House talk about speculators as if anybody who ever invests anywhere is a speculator. When is a speculator an investor and when is an investor a speculator? Every person who takes a risk with their money is an investor from my point of view and obviously a speculator from Deputy Boyd Barrett's point of view. He has a problem with capital and with people investing money.