Cowen: “I believe the pursuit of the national interest and the common good must have priority”

With Sinn Féin proposing some more taxes and borrowing here, it’s worth looking at what’s been happening there.

On Saturday 9th October RTÉ noted Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s intial lukewarm response to Green Party leader John Gormley’s call for an all-party consensus on a four-year budget plan.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said he would welcome a political consensus on the budgetary measures needed to get the economic situation under control.

However, he said it was up to the Opposition parties to put forward suggestions if they wished to do so, and the Government would then consider them.

Mr Cowen said there was work which was the duty of Government to undertake.

Mr Cowen said the Opposition were being given briefings by the Department of Finance, and if any suggestions emerged that required further discussion he had no problem with it.

When, on 11th October, John Gormley sent a one-page letter summarising the terms of proposed discussions to Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, RTÉ noted

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar has said that it would be better for Ireland if most of the adjustments needed to fix the economy were made in the Budget, instead of spreading them out equally over four years.

The Labour Party has said it would study the invitation, while Sinn Féin said it would be happy to attend the meeting.

That’s not quite the impression given by Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh in the earlier RTÉ report

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh said that the idea of some type of national consensus could be looked at, but only after a General Election.

He said the Government was only looking for consensus now after they had made ‘a hames of the economy’.

And while, on the 11th October, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin does say that he is “open to such a meeting”, he also added

“For the past week we have witnessed efforts to pull all the political parties in behind the Fianna Fáil/Green Government’s plan to slash and burn the Irish economy in order to reach a 3% budget deficit by 2014.

“Already the so-called main Opposition parties – Fine Gael and Labour – have signed up to that strategy. Sinn Féin will have no part in it. We are proposing a different way forward which will be outlined in full in our forthcoming pre-budget submission.

“Green Party leader John Gormley says he wants to meet the other party leaders. I am open to such a meeting but one thing is very clear – Sinn Féin will not be joining any false consensus designed to facilitate savage cutbacks and shield the Fianna Fail/Green Government from the political consequences.

And after Taoiseach Brian Cowen had some sharp words with Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore in the Dail on Tuesday 12th October – as reported in the Irish Times

Mr Cowen said he had no objection to a meeting to confirm that a briefing from the Department of Finance was “the pitch on which they were to play”.

He would also favour having talks beyond that, producing an outcome which would meet with everybody’s approval.

Addressing Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, he said: “I am also quite aware of what your stated position is publicly on these fronts already . . . And, you know, there have been policy choices suggested by yourself as late as yesterday that suggest no tax change, no change in welfare . . . a number of things which would make it very difficult, from my point of view, to see how we could make the adjustment without having all these matters on the table.’’

…both Labour and Fine Gael “rejected as unworkable” the Green Party initiative on a national consensus on the budget.

Until today…

Last night the BBC noted that Brian Cowen

…has written to the leaders of the main opposition parties inviting them to talks aimed at establishing an economic consensus.

The Irish Times today reported that the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has said he “will be responding positively to Mr Cowen’s letter”.  Labour Party TD Pat Rabbitte is sceptical

“Whoever has persuaded Brian Cowen in the direction of last night’s letter is attempting to keep this Government in office for as long as possible,” Deputy Rabbitte said. “And we have passed the stage where that is in the interests of the Irish people.”

However the Labour Party leader, Eamon Gilmore, has accepted the invitation.  Although with Brian Cowen denying it’s a u-turn, Eamon Gilmore is playing down expectations.

“I don’t think anybody should expect there is going to be a budget with consensus this year,” [Eamon Gilmore] told RTÉ Radio.

“The Taoiseach is talking about a four year plan. [This is] not credible unless you have a Government with a mandate to see it through,” he said. “I’m not going to engage in some sort of marriage counselling between the Taoiseach and one of his ministers.”

Sinn Féin, who have not been invited by the Taoiseach, are outraged…

[Sinn Féin party president Gerry] Adams said: “If the Taoiseach is serious about acting in the national interest, there must be an honest assessment of all the options available to tackle the economic and fiscal crisis.

“The Taoiseach’s decision to exclude Sinn Féin from discussions because the party has a different opinion is reprehensible.”

The party president said Sinn Féin has proposals to cut the deficit but claimed they would not rely on savage cutbacks to do so.

Mr Cowen said Sinn Féin did not support the need to slash the deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014.

“Clearly if that’s their position, there is no basis upon which we can find a common conclusion for a solution to a problem,” the Taoiseach said.