Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Public Expenditure Michael McGrath TD has described a meeting between a delegation of Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members and senior officials from the EU/IMF/ECB delegation as a frank and constructive engagement which he hopes to continue in the autumn. Deputy McGrath led a Fianna Fáil delegation comprising Seán Fleming TD, Willie O’Dea TD, Timmy Dooley TD, John McGuinness TD, Senator Darragh O’Brien and Senator Thomas Byrne.
Deputy McGrath commented: “There were a number of issues we wanted to raise with the EU/IMF delegation during their visit and since the Government chose not to organise briefings for opposition parties, we sought this meeting ourselves. We understand the Troika will hold a press conference tomorrow announcing the outcome of the third quarterly review. We welcomed the expected announcement that the implementation of the Programme is generally on target.
“During our meeting, we raised a wide range of issues with the Troika and sought clarity in a number of areas where the Government has been less than forthcoming. For example, we sought clarity on the Government’s assertion that the proceeds from the sale of state assets do not need to be used to reduce the national debt. We discussed in some detail the serious fiscal challenges that lie ahead as part of Budget 2012.
“We pointed out to the Troika the very real effect that high local authority rates were having on small and medium enterprises throughout the country and we asked that this area should receive further attention. We highlighted the importance of the capital investment programme and warned of the danger of the Government slashing this as an ‘easy’ way to meet deficit reduction targets.
“Following the launch of our proposals to protect family homes and reform personal debt, we informed the officials of our proposals and stressed the importance of addressing the concerns of those trapped in a spiral of unsustainable personal debt. We expressed our concern to ECB officials about recent interest rate rises and the difficulties that this was causing throughout the country for both individuals and businesses.
Deputy McGrath added: “We outlined to the Troika our deep disappointment at the failure of the EU authorities to pass on to Ireland the interest rate reduction on the Programme facility which was agreed last March. We also made clear to the ECB our support for the Government’s efforts to secure significant burden sharing with bond holders in respect of the €3.5bn of outstanding unsecured, unguaranteed debt in Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide.
“In relation to the Credit Union sector, we expressed our deep concern that the manner of the Government’s implementation of the EU/IMF programme may cause very serious harm to the credit union sector in this country. We explained to the Troika the unique role that credit unions play in communities around the country and the damage that would be done in these communities if the Government’s approach does not change.
“On the issue of reform, we raised concerns surrounding the Joint Labour Committees. We believe the recommendations of the Duffy-Walsh report should form the basis of the reform of the sector. There is growing concern that, because reform of the JLC system is contained within the EU/IMF deal, Fine Gael will use the recent court judgement as a veil to attack the rights and protections in place for low paid workers. We also reaffirmed our commitment to supporting an ambitious programme of public sector reform within the framework of the Croke Park deal which was negotiated while we were in Government.
Commenting on the feedback of the Troika representatives, Deputy McGrath commented, “What was striking from the feedback we received was the sense that the Programme which is in place does not set the outer limit of the reforms that can be implemented in Ireland. There was also an emphatic confirmation that, while the Programme sets the overall macro economic and fiscal parameters, the Government retains primary policy making responsibility and has significant freedom to decide how it meets those targets. While it might suit the Government to blame the EU / IMF Programme for every cut it imposes, the truth is that it is open to the Government to make policy choices within the overall parameters of the deal. The Government has already confirmed that it has made certain policy choices in the context of Budget 2012.
Deputy McGrath concluded, “The representatives we met today also kindly expressed their sympathy on the death of our party colleague Brian Lenihan, for which we are grateful. They spoke very warmly of Brian and we appreciate their very generous and sincerely held sentiments.”