Having marked the 95th anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising, it is a good time to focus on some positive news and remind ourselves of the words of Sean Lemass, who said that “there is nothing on earth that the people of this country cannot do better, or as well as any other people”.
The recent announcement of record export figures for February is a timely reminder of the basic truth of Lemass’s words. The fact that these figures come on top of almost a year of impressive export growth is not just good news in itself; it is further proof that the pain and difficulties imposed and endured in 2009 and 2010 are yielding results.
We can — and we will — trade our way back to prosperity. While there are things the last government got wrong, the one thing it did get right was taking the actions needed to make our exports more competitive in a very tough international trading environment.
It is an achievement we should celebrate at home and should constantly bring to the attention of our European colleagues.
It is news that may not suit the domestic political needs of Sarkozy and Merkel. They somehow see their political fortunes as resting on portraying Ireland as the European bold boy who not only led their ultra-responsible banks astray but also undermined the euro.
The inconvenient truth is that it was their banks that decided to charge chest deep into the already murky Irish financial swamp created by our own reckless bankers. It was the German, French and other EU banks who loaned out even more on Irish property deals that could never be pulled off.
Merkel and Sarkozy were remarkably silent back then though. So, too, were several others, as the Nyberg Report points out: “International organisations (IMF, EU, and OECD) were, at most, modestly critical and often complimentary regarding Irish developments and institutions. This gave the authorities and the banks additional reason to assume that all really was well.”
This Franco-German reluctance to publicly acknowledge that their own banks were as bad as ours may be politically understandable in an election year, but their actions in penalising Ireland to perpetuate the myth are not.
We can trade our way back to economic health, as we did in the Eighties. It does not require any special additional treatment; but it does require our being treated fairly and not being politically and economically blackmailed into tying our own hands by surrendering on Corporation Tax or the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).
The comments by Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, at the G20 in Washington that “. . .there will have to be movement. . . I don’t know whether it is the 12.5 per cent (corporation tax) or the base. We have to take the two components into account” do not augur well.
As I explained here some weeks ago — we cannot afford to budge on either. To do so would be to waste all the pain and turmoil we put people through over the past three years. There is no concession the French or Germans could offer us that would make it worthwhile engaging in discussion on either. This is not an issue for using weasel words.
Using weasel words is not an accusation you could level at Fine Gael’s Jimmy Deenihan. The new Arts and Gaeltacht Minister was forthright in his comments following the dreadful announcement that all 104 Aetna staff in Castleisland will lose their jobs at the end of this year.
Jimmy rightly said how hard it was for people to accept that the multinational insurance company, which made a profit of $1.8bn last year, was closing its profitable Irish operation.
His comments contrasted with the altogether blander, civil service-styled statement from his colleague and the minister with responsibility for jobs, Richard Bruton.
Hopefully it is not an indicator of the Government’s tactics in Europe — get a minister without responsibility to talk tough outside the conference room while, inside, the one with the responsibility gradually talks it all away.