..."Does Brian Cowen really know what he is doing?
...The Lisbon Treaty defeat was a fiasco for the government. Not that it matters even a tiny bit in the real world, but in the world of political perceptions and of the neurotic EU, it means everything and Cowen did not have the stature - yet - to tell the EU to cop on.
...Cowen seems to have been unnerved by the Lisbon defeat. He has seemed unsure, vacillating and unsettled since then. His performances over the last few days have been his worst, aided and abetted by Lenihan.
...The announced cuts in public expenditure are risible. Given the constraints that the prevailing hegemony has imposed on our political culture, tax increases of any sort are out of the question. There is no question that the people who made fortunes during the boom years should now bear the burden of a few bad years. Also no question about borrowing, beyond the constraints imposed by the EU.
...So the only way to deal with a sharp fall in tax revenues is to cut spending, and the cuts required next year will be several billion. This is not that much out of a total spend of around €60 billion, but the room for manoeuvre is being blocked by the elephant in the counting room: public sector pay. There is no option but to cut back on healthcare, education and affordable housing.
They fudged all the big decisions for now. Not a single tough choice: deferring decentralisation (what courage that took); projecting a saving of €30 million on social welfare fraud (how did they ever think of that one?); a ban on public sector recruitment (I thought Charlie McCreevy introduced that four years ago?); opting out of a scheme to help old people (splendid!); cutting back on overseas development aid (too bad about the poor of the Third World, but they will be comforted that this is being done under the guise of readjusting the figures because of lower GNP projections); and deferring a few capital projects. Pathetic.
And where will that leave us at budget time in December? Either there will indeed be ‘‘savage’’ cuts: social welfare increases just matching inflation, if that; cutbacks in health, with a pretence that these will not affect patients; cutbacks in education and, sure, nobody cares; the Metro deferred or maybe abandoned (this would be no bad thing); and several other capital projects deferred (so much for the talk of protecting the National Development Plan).
...Suddenly and rapidly, Cowen seems far less formidable than he did ten weeks ago. Out of his depth, some might argue. The transition to the top job appears to have been too quick and too bruising"...
Vincent Browne - the Sunday Buisness Post.