For the sake of the people facing searing debt I hope the proposals the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources mentioned last weekend come to fruition. However, people will excuse me for expressing a certain amount of scepticism about that particular statement because it bears closer scrutiny. It refers to the setting up of an expert group, presumably to come together and bring forward recommendations.
The Minister used the term “rolling recommendations”, whatever they are, in respect of what would be done to address this problem. First, it is an expert group set up to make recommendations. From what one can see, it not a group set up to do anything, although perhaps I can be corrected on that if I am wrong. Second, the expert group is not to be set up imminently. It will be set up within weeks.
Senator O’Toole has said, “Fair play to the Greens if they make it happen”, but there is no particular evidence that anything will be made happen from this statement. There is simply a statement of intent to have a group of people come together to discuss it and make recommendations. That is very different from the concrete proposals that have been brought forward, including proposals by Labour, in respect of addressing this very serious and urgent issue.
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.
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