The 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen is said to be struggling to maintain control over his Fianna Fail party amid an escalating jobs crisis.
The party reached a historically low 17 per cent in a last month’s Irish Times poll, and a number of party TDs have become openly critical of Cowen and his media performances.
Cowen’s most prominent ‘dissidents’ are TDs John McGuinness, Noel O’Flynn and Sean Power, but a number of others within the parliamentary party have rebelled against bills in the Dublin parliament banning stag hunting and restricting dog breeding.
However, unemployment figures showing that 452,882 people are now receiving assistance are the major source of the party’s unpopularity. Unless Fianna Fail can find an unexpected way to reverse its fortunes, many of its TDs are facing the end of their political careers, and panic is beginning to set in on the Fianna Fail backbenches.
A declaration by Cowen last week that the recession in the state is technically over was widely derided as an attempt to ‘talk up’ both the economy and his flagging leadership.
The latest figures show the 26 County state is now seeing growth in its Gross Domestic Product, but only as a result of multinational corporations increasingly using the state’s tax haven status to declare profits from overseas.
Some 2,000 jobs have been lost each week since the current government came into office and there have been warnings this week that 4,000 more workers are set to lose their jobs at a stroke in eircom and the two main Irish banks.
Mr Cowen said the Government was dealing with the issue on a daily basis, and “the only way we can create more jobs is to make our economy more competitive” and by continuing the bailout of the banking and property sectors.
He said “jobs will not be created in a vacuum, and will not be created on the basis of letting our public finances go out of control”.
“They certainly will not be created by the contention that we should not try to repair the banking system, which is fundamental.”
The government is reported to be considering the sale of a number of semi-state organisations such as the ESB, Bord Gais and others in order to finance the budget.
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan said his party will resist the selling off of state enterprises, or what he called ‘the family silver’.
Morgan said privatising buoyant state companies which are actually returning investment for the public coffers would not fix the economy.
“It was not state companies that helped cause this crisis, but private banks, and history has shown that privatising services leads to a diminishment in those services.
“We can see from news today that it also leads to unstable working conditions, as the employees of Eircom can testify to.
“Privatising companies is an ideological agenda pursued by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for decades. Behind it is short-sighted greed and often those who benefit have close ties to the government in power.”
Sinn Féin Vice-President Mary Lou McDonald said it was unacceptable that the Dublin parliament would go on a three-month break next week while nothing has been done to tackle the jobs crisis.
“There is no strategy to create jobs. This government is now trying to convince people that the economy has turned a corner, but economic growth in the absence of jobs is pointless. Despite some newspaper headlines heralding the end of the recession, the reality is that there are now more unemployed today than at any time in the history of the state.
“This week, with the media distracted by internal government wranglings over stag hunting and dog breeding, the government quietly pushed through legislation cutting social welfare entitlements.
“These cuts will cause real hardship for people who have no confidence of returning to the workforce any day soon given that nothing is being done to create jobs. Cutting public services and welfare undermines the state’s ability to make an economic recovery.
“Its time to implement the kind of job creation proposals set out by Sinn Féin over the last couple of years. We need to invest in job creation and bring forward specific strategies for potential growth sectors of the economy – sectors such as digital media, IT, agri-food, tourism and environmental technologies.
“Sinn Féin has advocated a concerted push by Government to stimulate economic growth and put in place a comprehensive job retention and creation strategy. But the Government is closing its eyes and ears to any alternative to its failed policies.”