Putting public finances in order is the priority, Taoiseach tells Monaghan Chamber

22 October 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

michael@northern-standard.ie

A genuine belief and conviction that this country can, and will, get through the current economic turmoil if everyone pulls together in a collective effort, was central to the message given by An Taoiseach Brian Cowen in a lengthy, off the cuff and at times passionate address given to a dinner hosted by Monaghan Chamber of Commerce in the Four Seasons Hotel last Friday evening.

The event was organised by the Chamber’s Infrastructure and Industry Committee with a view to giving representatives of various business, economic, educational and social sectors an opportunity to air their concerns to the Taoiseach and to put forward ideas and suggestions on finding a way forward in their respective areas of interest.

While taking on board the points that had been made, Mr Cowen, in turn, used the event as a platform from which to bluntly spell out the actions be believed were needed — and which should be supported by all, however unpalatable — to put the public finances “back into order”  by 2014.

The Chamber’s ‘Monaghan Social & Economic Development Forum’ dinner in the Four Seasons was the first of a series of events attended by Mr Cowen on Friday. He later had a private meeting in the hotel with local Fianna Fáil representatives, before visiting Monaghan Co Enterprise Board and Monaghan Co Enterprise Fund at the M:TEK buildings in Knockaconny. His final port of call in the county was in Carrickmacross, where he attended a reception at Rory McEvoy’s new Stationary Solutions store in Carrickmacross.

Departing from any prepared script at the Chamber dinner, Mr Cowen pulled no punches in making it clear that increases in taxes and cuts in public expenditure would be required if the stated fiscal objectives were to be achieved.

The fact that €50 billion was being spent this year while only €32 million was being raised in taxes demonstrated that there was a “major hole” in the public finances. This was not sustainable and would have to be corrected. If the adjustments were not made, all the advances that were made in recent years would be put at risk.

If the  international investors, bond markets and “those who are funding our deficits” were not convinced that the country was facing up to the challenge, then “the very funding arrangements that are providing the means by which we provide services in this country” were being put at risk, he warned in no uncertain terms.

But there was a great sense of realism and resilience among the people, he argued, and the country could deal with its difficulties by “calmly, rationally, and intelligently” facing up to the magnitude of what has to be done.

Those who spoke prior to the Taoiseach at the Chamber dinner included Martin O’Brien, Chief Executive of Monaghan VEC, Peadar McMahon of the Hospital Alliance, Riona Carroll of the Chamber of Commerce and Brian Cassells of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland. Each made strong points relating to issues facing their sectors and called on Mr Cowen to support various ideas and initiatives .

The same speakers had earlier given presentations at what was a day-long Monaghan Social & Economic Development Forum organised by the Chamber in the Four Seasons, where Gerry Darby of Clones Regeneration Partnership and Tarka King of Ulster Waterways also contributed significantly to the workshops.

The Taoiseach had been greeted on his arrival by a welcoming party including Monaghan Chamber of Commerce President Gordon Fleming, the Chamber’s Planning, Infrastructure and Industry Committee Chairperson Charlie McGuinness, Four Seasons Hotel proprietor Frank McKenna, and Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members Dr Rory O’Hanlon TD, Margaret Conlon TD and Senator Francie O’Brien.

Dáil representatives from other parties were also present including Fine Gael’s Seymour Crawford and Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

PRESS INTERVIEW

On the way in, Mr Cowen had initially engaged in what turned out to be a somewhat strained interview with national and local media representatives, from which he beat a swift enough retreat after dealing with questions on the topics ranging from the Croke Park deal to the banking crisis to local health services.

In reply to a query from this reporter about the prospect of making greater use of Monaghan Hospital — or of even putting some acute services back into place — in light of the pressures causing some services to be temporarily discontinued in Cavan last week, he was adamant that the reconfiguration of acute services was consistent to safety requirements.  A “pragmatic and sensible approach” would be to develop services like day surgery, diagnostics and medical assessment in smaller sites like Monaghan.

An upbeat atmosphere prevailed at the Chamber dinner itself, which had tables representing sectors such as retail, food, construction, culture & arts, health, logistics, hospitality, environment, finance and the Ulster Canal. One committee member told the Northern Standard this week that it was an event the organisation hopes to build upon. Many potentially beneficial local initiatives had been highlighted, and the Chamber would continue to put pressure on Government representatives in particular about some of the issues that were raised. These including the calls for a greater focus on direct investment in jobs and on projects like the Ulster Canal, the spokesperson said.

Mr Cowen began his address by thanking the Monaghan Chamber for the invitation to speak at this forum. He commended the work the Chamber was doing, stating that it would be very important for the future and for the communities in which the Chamber’s members lived and did their business.

Mr Cowen said it was very important for him, as Taoiseach, to highlight the context in which the Government was operating, and, having listened to the presentations made (printed below), to give his views in relation to some of the topics that had been mentioned.

Full report in The Northern Standard

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