Cowen ducks Dail debate on his economic plans for second year running…

This is a longish clip from Leader’s Questions in the Dail this morning, but it’s worth listening the whole way through. For weeks Kenny and Gilmore have been trying to wheedle out the Taoiseach a date for the emergence of two major reports: a detailed outline of the Government’s new ‘toxic bank’, aka the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA), and the McCarthy Committee report, aka ‘An Bord Snip Nua’; which was due to report by the end of last month and then sort of half promised for this week by the Tainiste. Mr Gilmore accuses the Taoiseach of having refused to take the report until the Dail could be safely shuffled in recess at the end of this week.Looking back a year, Gilmore went on to recall that” title=”when he reminded the Taoiseach”>when he reminded the Taoiseach (an embarrassing exchange given the 2% rise in VAT that followed and virtually sunk Irish retailers and wholesale suppliers after Brown put the UK’s rate down shortly afterwards…) that with 200,000 people on the live unemployment register, there was a need for the Oireachtas to sit through the summer. Back then Gilmore argued (more on Labour’s excellent blog):

By comparison, the House of Commons sits for more than 130 days and the US Congress sits for almost 160 days while the Dáil sits for just over 90 days in plenary session. We do not need to make international comparisons to make the case for longer Dáil sittings and to oppose the closing down of our national Parliament for three months in the middle of the year. We need go no further than our Constitution, Article 28.4.1 of which states that the Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann. However, the Dáil can only fulfil its constitutional duty of holding the Government to account if it is in session.

And more specifically:

The Government in addressing the economic situation during the next three months — it has the figures and knows the state of the Irish economy and public finances — will consider where cuts will be made, what services will or will not be provided, what schools will be built and what hospital projects will go ahead. It will make those decisions in the absence of its requirement to account to Dáil Éireann as provided for in the Constitution. The constitutional role and responsibility of Dáil Éireann is being denied and frustrated by a Government that does not wish to appear to account.

And this morning he commented (about three minutes in):

The Taoiseach at that time seemed to adopt the attitude that the economic business of the country was the private business of the Government and they would do what they had to do. They arrived back here in September in a panic and have stumbled from one crisis to another ever since. And it would appear that the Government has learned nothing. The Taoiseach is still behaving as though the business of the people, the economic business of the country, the difficulty that people are having now with jobs, the number of unemployed is now twice what it was last year… And yet the Taoiseach comes in here and says he doesn’t want to defer decisions; you’re doing nothing but deferring, because before this house goes into recess, this isn’t your business, this isn’t a matter for private discussion by government, this is public business… The sateof the economy is public business, and you are withholding from the public.

My principle objection is that you are withholding the McCarthy report. And withholding it you are. This nonsense that ‘it hasn’t been delivered yet’ and ‘we’ll get it later in the week and then we’ll discuss it’ is all nonsense. You know what’s in the McCarthy report. You have the McCarthy report. You are simply delaying ‘receiving it’ so you won’t have to publish it and you won’t have to answer for it here in the course of debate. We need to see that report if that’s going to be the basis Taoiseach of how you are going to deal with public expenditure and how you are going to deal with the delivery of public services for the rest of this year into 2010 then we need to see what is in it and you should put it up on the table before the house breaks for the summer.

This begins to have the look of a Wildean farce… To mess up one Autumn budget, Mr Cowen, may be regarded as a misfortune. To mess up two will look like something rather more than carelessness… Apart from anything else, ducking the fight makes it look like you haven’t a clue even if you have…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty