It’s not often this blog gets a chance to step in for the Taoiseach and break news to the Dáil but it was that sort of morning.
For those of you not familiar with the Dáil system we have Leaders Questions each Wednesday morning at 10.30. It’s an opportunity for myself and others to quiz Enda Kenny on what we believe to be an issue of importance.
It had been my intention to use my two minutes for a question and one minute for a supplementary to raise the health crisis.
Each day brings new reports of the impact of government cuts on the health service. On Wednesday morning the media was reporting a statement from the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine which revealed that the number of sick children awaiting admission to hospitals and waiting on trolleys has increased by almost 700% in three years. Many children spend longer than 12 hours on a trolley and in some cases more than 24 hours.
Several days earlier the Health Service Executive also revealed that almost 60,000 patients – adults and children - are on waiting lists - a 50% increase on 2010.
And all of this is taking place on Enda Kenny’s watch – the same Enda Kenny who five years ago in opposition, and when 41,000 patients were on the waiting list – stood in the Dáil and listed one cutback after another in the health service. He warned that ‘patients die at the end of waiting lists because services cannot be provided for them.’
There is a depth of hypocrisy and double standards in this that is breathtaking in its brazenness.
That’s what I had wanted to speak to the Taoiseach about. But governments seek to manage news so the Taoiseach and his friends had arranged for the Labour Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin TD, to hold a press conference at exactly the same time as Leaders Questions began. The Minister released details on the government’s plan to sell-off state assets.
Obviously the purpose was to minimise the chance of any of the opposition leaders raising this issue. It’s an old trick and one Enda used to get very angry about when the last government regularly did it to him. Now he’s happy to do it to others. But where there is a will there is a way. And when I stood at 10.40 to put my question I had sufficient information to challenge the Taoiseach.
‘As we sit here’ I said, ‘Minister Howlin is in another building announcing the sale of State assets to the tune of €3 billion. And I as a person who has the privilege of leading the Sinn Féin party as part of the Opposition, I must depend on someone sending me a text to tell me this.’
‘Is this not a matter that should have come to the chamber for us to discuss?’
It is an indictment of this government that this blog had to give details of this planned sell-off to the chamber instead of Minister Howlin or the Taoiseach. The government was treating the Dáil with discourtesy.
It is also trying to hide its decision to sell-off state assets by claiming that this is part of the agreement with the Troika (the European Commission; the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) and of the bailout.
This is untrue. There is no commitment in the Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika for the sell-off of state assets. Sinn Féin has met with the Troika and they told us that while they believe in privatisation that the Memorandum of Understanding does not bind Fine Gael and Labour to this sell-off of state assets. This is a decision taken by the government.
Claims by the government that this will provide funding for job creation have to be set against the government’s decision to give away taxpayers money to unguaranteed bondholders and bad banks, including €3.1 billion to Anglo-Irish bank at the end of March.
The government is selling off successful self-financing state companies such as Bord Gais Éireann’s energy business and some elements of ESB’s power generation capacity, as well as the possible sale of some assets of Coillte and the states remaining shares in Aer Lingus.
These successful state companies should be part of a job creation strategy that is part and parcel of the solution in creating jobs and delivering growth. They shouldn’t be sold off to private interests whose sole interest is profit.
It is a myth that privatisation and deregulation brings competitiveness and efficiency. In reality it was the right wing deregulation strategies of Thatcher and Reagan and others in the 1980s and the growing gap these policies created between the rich and poor which led to the current economic crisis.
The pattern wherever privatisation has been pursued and profitable state companies have been sold off is one of job losses, increased prices for the consumers and big profits for private speculators. Labour should be ashamed of its endorsement of this right wing conservative economic philosophy.