Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The cosy, crony capitalism of the Irish Republic

This week Goldman Sachs is being investigated in the US for fraud. It has been credibly alleged that as the banking crisis and recession took hold Goldman Sachs exploited it as an opportunity to make further profit for themselves at the expense of others. Reports suggest that while the economy was turning belly up Goldman Sachs developed and sold risky mortgage packages and then bet against them. A win – win for the Wall Street giant.

A series of damning internal Goldman Sachs emails have been published by the US authorities one reports the “good news” that the wipeout of one security and the imminent collapse of another meant Goldman would make $5 billion from a bet against the instruments it had set up and sold itself. Even after the US authorities moved to charge Goldman Sachs with fraud against its investors to the tune of €1 billion and the German and British authorities’ in turn commenced investigations Goldman announced a new round of bonuses for its staff amounting to £3.5 billion.

What has this got to do with us? Well, as the government consistently reminds us, in a futile effort to evade taking responsibility for the nation’s current troubles, we live in a global economy. Our banks are tied up with the international financial markets. Our banks eventually follow where their international role models lead. And Goldman Sachs analysts issue assessments of Irish banks which have consequences for their abilities to raise capital. The per-share profit estimates issued by Goldman analysts have consequences for Irish stocks. What have our government done in response to the growing evidence of fraud by this financial ogre? Have they blacklisted it from future contracts and consultancies? Have they sought to minimise the consequences for Ireland of its activities? No. The Fianna Fáil Green government sought an endorsement of its NAMA plans from Goldman Sachs and has been happy to rely on it since.

Let’s be under no illusion here Fine Gael would do no better. The Fine Gael hack Peter Sutherland pumped up on his own arrogance and bloated self-importance, who would close half of Ireland universities if he got his way and who is against a University for Waterford, is chairman of Goldman Sachs International. And Fine Gael Senator Eugene Reagan is a director of Goldman Sachs Ireland.

This world of cosy crony capitalism which both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael inhabit is the source of our countries woes! A property-lending binge was embarked upon by the Irish banks for the most part of a decade. The Government had a very pro real-estate policy. Fine Gael was no different. For almost 15 years the growth in bank credit outstripped the nominal growth in GNP by a factor of about 2 or 3. Poor lending standards, unregulated products and bonus bonanzas brought the Irish financial sector to its knees.

Meanwhile in the real world thousands of people are still losing their jobs. Nothing is being done to help those out of work. Young people are being forced to emigrate. As we approach International Workers Day 460,000 people in this state are out of work with 26,000 in Waterford City and County. Thousands more are now facing mortgage interest hikes while simultaneously losing their jobs and having social welfare cut. A lot of small to medium size businesses are being starved of credit. We have no jobs plan. The banking bailout has failed. And yet dozens of former Ministers still in paid positions had to be dragged kicking and screaming into surrendering their pensions. Am I the only one angry?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Buses, trains and a boat but no plane

What started as a fun family holiday to France ended up as a long trek across France and Britain. Like millions of others in Europe and elsewhere I fell victim to the cloud of volcanic ash. I was due to travel home on Monday. Two buses, three trains and a boat later I arrived home. To make matters worse our three year old son Emmet caught a bug and was sick. Nobody is to blame and the decision to halt flights on safety grounds was the correct one. What I am disappointed in is the poor customer care service offered by Aer Lingus.

As our holiday progressed it was clear that our flight was going to be cancelled. On Sunday morning I received a text from Aer Lingus confirming this and advising us not to travel to the Airport. There was no offer of accommodation. No mention of a hotline or special contact number. It was impossible to get through on the official line. You had to paddle your own canoe.

I called to the Eurostar train office. This is the high speed train from Paris to London. The first available spaces were on Wednesday evening. We then had to plot the remainder of our course home. This involved a train from London to Cardiff, Cardiff to Fishguard and the ferry to Rosslare. The journey was not that bad. Some of it was fun. There were people in far worse situations then we were. What is annoying is the lack of support from Aer Lingus. I hope all of those who were stranded in far away places got better support then we did. I also hope I will be reimbursed for expenses incurred and ease the pressure on my flexible friend, the credit card.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bring on the bye-election

I am humbled and privileged to have been selected as the candidate to represent Sinn Féin in the upcoming bye-election. I commit to conducting a positive and constructive campaign. I will robustly challenge the Government on their absolute failures and provide real solutions to the country’s problems. This election must be about the issues facing the people of Waterford and not personalities.

Waterford taking centre stage

We have an opportunity to seriously impact on national politics and set the political agenda. We have an opportunity to properly hold those responsible for the economic collapse and the jobs crisis to account. In doing so we must also provide a credible alternative and offer hope to those who are hurting. Things do not have to be the way they are. 26,000 people in Waterford do not have to be out of work. We do not have to accept that Waterford will remain without a University. We can take a stand and say enough is enough. We should demand a new economy, a new kind of politics and a new Government.

New Economy

The Government has presided over the collapse of the Irish economy. Our banking system has caved in on under its own greed. The Irish people have been saddled with a €80 billion debt as we pump billions into five wayward banks. Put simply, our economy was serving the few and not the many. We need a new economy. We need to protect jobs and create jobs. We need to save jobs today and create the jobs of tomorrow. I set out four areas where the potential to create jobs exist:

* Tourism
* Green Technology
* IT and Digital Sector
* Agri-business

Tourism has the potential to be a key economic driver for the city and county. It can be the hook on which we underpin economic recovery locally. It is also an area where huge progress is being made. Green Technology and the IT and Digital Sectors are emerging industries internationally and Waterford is well placed to take advantage. These are areas where Waterford Institute of Technology is excelling in research and development. It is vital that educational providers, enterprise agencies and Government Departments work together and produce a new generation of entrepreneurs in these growth areas and in doing so create employment. Agri-business provides enormous opportunities for rural communities in Waterford.

New Politics – Renew the Republic

It is not good enough simply to rail against the system or blame the Government. The people of Waterford must stand up and be counted. We must demand real reform of the political system. A system which is dominated by special interests, tainted by corruption and is resistant to change. The entire political system needs to be reformed. The Oireachtas has consistently failed to exert sufficient scrutiny over the government and public bodies, and its composition reflects neither the talents nor the diversity of our people. A political system which is a carbon-copy of the British model, largely unreformed since partition, does not equip Ireland to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We need to renew the Republic to one which serves the people and not vested interests. We need a national Republic.

Rebuilding society

The birth of the Celtic Tiger created a lot of wealth in this state. It also brought about an undermining of society. Many of those who were celebrated as wealth creators were actually wealth destroyers. It is this individual greed which collapsed the banking system and saddled the taxpayer with the debt of dozens of big developers. On Good Friday 1,200 loans from the top ten developers in the country were transferred to NAMA. We need to rebuild the idea of a society and a community. In a society we all have a responsibility to each other. This goes for big bankers as well as the ordinary worker. Robust regulation of the banking and business sector must be put in place. People also have a right to live free from the fear of crime, drugs and anti-social behaviour. Rebuilding a sense of community is vital if we are to recover economically and bring about a fairer Ireland.

I am looking forward to the election campaign. I look forward to engaging in a battle of ideas with other candidates. I look forward to engaging with the people of Waterford. This is Waterford’s chance to set the agenda and send the Government a powerful message. We want real change.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Good Friday but not for us

On Wednesday this week I sat in one of my constituency clinics and waited for those with appointments to turn up. You never know what to expect as it is a tough time for people at the moment. One woman was in tears as she and her husband both lost their jobs and are unable to pay the bills. She was distraught and was worried about how she would fend for her children. A 40 year old man on the housing list for 10 years asked would he ever be offered a house. Several people were at their wits ends worrying about why their application for benefits of one kind or another was taking so long. One woman is waiting 14 weeks for her social welfare payment to come through. Another guy is waiting months for his medical card. A lady who is losing the family home was looking for advice as to what to do. The banks showed her and her family no mercy or compassion and forced the couple to surrender the house. Not to do so she argued would have prolonged the agony.

The day before Brian Lenihan took to his feet in the Dáil and announced to a public reeling from the effects of the recession that they, the taxpayers of Ireland, would pump €80 Billion Euro into five wayward banks. The same Brian Lenihan took to his feet in the same chamber only a few short months ago and delivered a savage budget that cut people’s wages, social welfare rates and public services. He had nothing to offer the couple in my clinic who had both lost their jobs or those desperately waiting for benefits. He left them without hope for the future. It seems our economy, our banking system and our Government serve the Seanie Fitzpatrick’s of this world and not the tax paying public.

The scale of the bank bailout is almost as incomprehensible as it is reprehensible. We are investing one and a half times our GDP into the banks over the next number of years. We are mortgaging our future to pay for the recklessness of the few. We are ensuring that the Irish economy will stand still for the next 15 years. Our children will most likely be still paying the debt in a generation to come. On Good Friday the first tranche of loans coming from the top ten developers, totaling 1,200 loans will be transferred to NAMA. This will be followed be a further re-capitalising of our banks to the tune of €30 billion. Bank of Ireland will need €2.7 billion, AIB €7.4 billion, Irish Nationwide €2.7 billion, EBS €875 million and Anglo Irish a staggering €10 Billion. Today is Aprils Fools day. Visitors to the country would be forgiven for mistaking the headlines in our newspapers as a national April Fools joke – Government spends three times the national debt bailing out the banks. I struggle to contain my anger as I recall the hardship and difficulties of those who attended my clinic. The Irish Republic has well and truly lost its way.