There were rowdy scenes in the Dublin parliament this week between the 26-County government and Sinn Fein over the planned sell-off of part of the ESB (Electricity Supply Board), the semi-state body which until recently held a monopoly on Ireland’s energy market.
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, of the left-wing Labour Party, said the coalition was forced into the decision reluctantly because of the “extraordinary debt left by the previous government”.
Sinn Fein’s Caoimhghin O’Caolain accused the Minister of breaching the election promise of the Labour Party to keep all strategic assets in state hands.
The Labour election manifesto, said Mr O Caolain, had clearly committed the party to the concept of public enterprise and its determination to ensure that semi-State companies played a full role in the economy’s recovery.
Labour, he added, had expressed its opposition to “short-termist privatisation” of key State assets, such as the forestries and the energy networks.
Mr O Caolain said there should be no doubt that by part-privatising the ESB, the current coalition was implementing the EU-IMF austerity deal, under which international loans are being used to prop up the 26-County state’s finances and its failed banking system.
“The Labour Party denounced that deal prior to and during the course of the general election campaign in February,” he added.
He asked how the sale of the ESB could be anything other than the “short-termism” which Labour had already condemned.
Howlin responded by blaming Sinn Fein’s support for a temporary bank guarantee to prevent the threatened sudden collapse of the state’s banking system.
He declared: “The truth is inescapable. You voted for that debt. You placed that burden on our backs.”
Sinn Fein was also accused by Howlin of attempting to bankrupt the 26-County state by proposing that Dublin renege on the EU-IMF deal.
He said the party was suggesting that the money required to pay gardai, teachers, nurses and doctors could be generated by magic out of some place.
“The people are not fools, however, and they understand the fantasy of that,” he added.
The war of words heated up after the government, in which Labour is the junior coalition partner, voted down a motion from Sinn Fein to keep the ESB in state control.
“The Labour Party in coalition has become the limp tail of a rabid dog,” Mr O’Caolain responded.
“It is Fine Gael who are dictating the pace and are going forward with their particular agenda and you, once again, are absolute failures.”
NOONAN DOFFS THE CAP
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has slammed Minister Michael Noonan’s announcement that the government will not implement burden-sharing with senior bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank.
Noonan’s decision, made at the behest of the state’s EU paymasters, was “a further smack in the face to taxpayers who are already struggling to cope”, said Doherty.
As a result of this decision taxpayers’ money will be used on 2nd November to pay out 700 million euro to an unsecured, unguaranteed senior bondholder in Anglo Irish Bank, he said.
“Today’s decision by the government has resulted in them abandoning the only financial policy that differentiated them from Fianna Fail. It is clear now that Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour have sold taxpayers down the river and condemned us to debt for generations to come.
“Citizens should not be forced to pay for the debt of private banks. Sinn Fein would not put one cent more into Anglo Irish Bank and would ensure that the bankers and the bondholders shoulder their fair share of the burden.
“Public money should be used for social and economic recovery. I am appealing to Fine Gael and Labour to stick by their electoral promises and stand up for ordinary people, not financial speculators.”