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Cowen Flees into the Arms of FAS

Posted on: September 26th, 2010

ON Monday evening last, Brian Lenihan released Brian Cowen from political bondage. The Taoiseach — reprieved by his Finance Minister — instantly bolted to a safer haven.

No, not to Offaly. Nor into the arms of his demoralised Fianna Fail tribe; but in his mission to save his skin, he turned to a different type of bondage — quango bondage — as he landed straight into the arms of Ireland’s immovables. Identifying unemployment as the biggest sore on the scarred landscape, he issued press releases galore to reinvent himself as a man of action.

In support of this fantasy, the Taoiseach herded the representatives of a dozen half-dead sheep into his office in Merrion Street.

The old faithfuls struggled up to his shrine.

No longer could he seek refuge at the temple of his former heros, the moribund social partners.

No, the brethren are broken, the party disillusioned, the media hostile. Cowen turned to the deadest corpses in the entire political universe. The nation’s (and Cowen’s) life saver suddenly lay in the designs of a dozen quangos.

Fine Gael, astonished at his decision to call a congregation of down and out agencies, wrongly accused the Taoiseach of attempting a political stunt. It was no such thing. No Taoiseach intending to pull a stroke would turn to Fas, the most damaged state agency in decades, to rescue him; but that is what the Taoiseach did. In his hour of need he feted Fas and 10 other quangos, the so-called employment-creating State agencies. They all answered the Taoiseach’s cry for talks in Government Buildings.

It is a measure of the poor man’s mindset that he regards such an array of dead wood as a political crutch.

Had the Taoiseach been summoning the chief executives and chairmen of the State agencies to give them their P45s, he would have done a good day’s work. These are the expensive agencies that have cost the State a fortune, in some cases frittering away millions while making little impression on the jobless numbers.

On Wednesday they were being paraded in front of the cameras to demonstrate that Cowen cared. There he was standing shoulder to shoulder with such subsidised employment titans as Fas, Enterprise Ireland, Failte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia. Hail to Cowen and the dynamos of the economic recovery. It was pathetic.

A rent-a-crowd of loyal Cabinet ministers (those not too embarrassed to plead a more pressing engagement) joined them. The same ministers were in mutinous mood a few days earlier.

Brian Lenihan had the good grace to head for the Oireachtas Finance Committee to be grilled by Labour’s Joan Burton, obviously an infinitely more palatable experience than posing with the agents of the beaten dockets visiting Merrion Street. He had done his bit of posing during his show of unity with the Taoiseach on Monday evening.

Back in Merrion Street, Cowen was talking his usual gibberish to the media.

“We have to believe in ourselves if we want other people to believe in us, to invest with us and to trade with us.

“We must use the talents and the imagination of our people to create opportunities, as well as to squarely tackle our current problems. That is the only way we can generate economic recovery and jobs for our people.”

I will not torture readers nor Ireland’s unemployed with any further inanities.

Decoded, Cowen’s attitude was depressing: “We have no ideas. Unemployment is here to stay. We have nearly a dozen glorious State agencies dedicated to solving the jobless crisis. I am going to roll them out to shield myself. Of course they have all failed. But here is my photo with the kings and the queens of the quangos.”

Falling headlong into the arms of Fas is hardly a solution to the jobs crisis. Cowen’s initiative could easily have followed a different road.

My colleague in this newspaper, Brendan Keenan, a man of more moderation and good sense than I, recently suggested that all heads of State agencies and Government departments should be asked for their resignations. They could then reapply for their jobs. Some would be reappointed, some would not.

Keenan is tackling the problem with his usual wisdom. Let us share his wisdom and go further. Perhaps there is a need for even sharper shock therapy. Perhaps they should all be fired, their quangos dismantled and a few patriots enlisted?

Some patriots are still making a fortune. Even last week there was great news for the Irish economy. Did the paralysed Taoiseach not take time out to digest Google’s Irish results?

Google’s dynamic Dublin operation shames many of our featherbedded industries. Last year Google increased employment in Ireland and is set to add another 200 staff in 2010. The average Google salary rose from €64,000 to €72,000.

Google does not go in for all that social partnership guff, so beloved of the State agencies and the Taoiseach.

As Google released its results, imagine all the parallel Wednesday waffle in Government Buildings, the discussions about wage rates, employees’ rights, overtime, increments, minimum wages, union demands, red tape and other contrived difficulties when Cowen and his talking heads from the State agencies started to rabbit on about employment creation. The only missing link at the table were the nation’s current undertakers, Ibec and Ictu.

There will be plenty more “meetings” of the wasters in State agencies to discuss jobs. Nothing will happen.

Governments do not create jobs. They provide conditions for companies like Google, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, eBay and Intel to flourish. Multinationals are the most vibrant part of Ireland’s economy. We should be down on our knees to them, not pandering to the egos of the State agencies. Some 580 US multinationals have provided 100,000 jobs here.

There are plenty more sizing us up from across the Atlantic.

Why did the Taoiseach not ask Google boss John Herlihy, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, eBay’s John McElligott, Hewlett Packard’s Martin Murphy, Intel’s Jim O’Hara, and Dermot Desmond into his office to decide the jobs agenda?

They would only allow him one meeting, have no time for ritual handwringing in front of cameras or endless jobs-spoof. They would bring a hit list of targets. They would probably tell Cowen to scrap any budget plans for increased taxation, to provide proper broadband and to cut corporation tax from its 12.5 per cent level, to cull the quangos and rationalise the public service. They would send a hit squad into the DAA, An Post, the ESB and Bord Gais. Then they would sell them.

They would insist he did it now without further meetings. Then they would leave the room and expect action. They would refuse to return until there was evidence of serious change.

If the Government administered the nation with a dose of shock therapy, more overseas investment would flow in. Attracting overseas industry to the country, not more quangos, creates more jobs. In turn, the Government reaps greater revenue.

Instead, last week the Government announced that it had broken its own public service embargo by appointing 1,600 extra people to the public service.

State agencies, with their inside track to the Taoiseach’s Office, can always succeed with special pleading.

It is a pity that Brian Cowen was released from political bondage only to return to the prison of quango land.