‘One cannot state the Government created the boom but has nothing to do with the issues we now face.’
We have not yet begun to get our heads around what is happening in terms of the economic situation. Last week, the greatest increase in unemployment since records began was reported. We have a veritable collapse in the domestic property market in this city according to anecdotal evidence and what has been written. This morning, I saw a “sale agreed” sign on the south-side of Dublin. It was a bit like the first cuckoo of spring but I am not sure whether it will be followed by many more cuckoos. The construction industry will be seriously impacted by this.
According to comments made today by one commentator, David McWilliams, who is hardly a socialist firebrand, we have invested so much in property in recent years that we have exhausted the capital base in the country. We have a serious situation facing us. It is not an exaggeration to describe it as a crisis.
Again and again in the Seanad I have heard the Leader and others reeling off the achievements of the Government. The Government has had achievements but if it is correct to state, as I anticipate the Leader and others might, that the economic downturn is largely the result of international forces, it is incorrect to state the Government was responsible for the boom. As I pointed out before, one cannot have it both ways. One cannot state the Government created the boom but has nothing to do with the issues we now face.
In a compelling piece, David McWilliams also points out that at the heart of the job over which the new Taoiseach must preside is the stunning accumulation of wealth at the top of society. He recalls last year’s wealth of the nation report from Bank of Ireland. The top 1% in the country own 20% of the wealth. The top 5% own 40% of the wealth. Let us pause to consider the fact that 40% of the wealth of the country is owned by the top 5% of the population. This is one of the legacies of the boom and an issue with which we must wrestle as we consider future economic policy.
It is not enough to state we improved social welfare in line with or above inflation. We must consider the opportunities we will present, spread, foster and offer to the young people, whether in Limerick or elsewhere, caught up in social problems and crime. Will the weaker in society suffer with a downturn in the economy? This must not be the case. We must examine this splurge of wealth at the top, whether it is symbolised in the Galway tent or elsewhere. We need to turn this around and ensure economic policies develop the country.
Let us have all issues open, including this extraordinary inequality, which is one of the unfortunate legacies of the boom.