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26 September 2002 Edition

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McCreevy must go

Foreign affairs error exposes coalition lies




BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN


     
What is most damning though about his prior knowledge is not just that he hid from the public any knowledge of the scale of cutbacks pending after the election, but that the cutbacks have been so focused on the weakest section of society.
What a week for Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy. His attempts to claim that he was involved in "sane and sensible" economic policies were exposed as lies and deception as the Department of Foreign Affairs mistakenly released an embarassing confidential memo from McCreevy.

The memo revealed that the entire Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat coalition cabinet knew that there were severe financial difficulties in government finances and that spending cutbacks were inevitable months before the election.

Last Thursday McCreevy was talking to Fianna Fáil TDs and ministers at a special meeting in Killarney. We were told by an unnamed Fianna Fáil TD that, "McCreevy played a blinder" as he "mixed wit with economics" in his attempt to downplay criticism within the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party over his planned spending cutbacks.

On Friday it was different matter. McCreevy had to deal with a cross section of the actual public and he was booed and jeered on the Late Late show.

Then on the weekend the Sunday Tribune revealed Department of Finance memos that inadvertently proved that McCreevy and the entire coalition cabinet knew of the dire state of government finances, not just before the election, but also as far back as January. It means that the cabinet must have known that the ongoing drip-feed of cutbacks we are now enduring were coming.

Despite the knowledge that spending cuts were inevitable McCreevy and his cabinet colleagues still allowed government spending to increase by 27% in the months running up to the Leinster House elections.

Now day-to-day spending is to be cut by Euro900 million in 2003, while the inequitable special savings scheme is to cost taxpayers over Euro1.25 billion more than originally budgeted.

There has been widespread criticism of McCreevy and calls for him to resign. He should resign. What is most damning though about his prior knowledge is not just that he hid from the public any knowledge of the scale of cutbacks pending after the election, but that the cutbacks have been so focused on the weakest section of society.

No other finance minister has presided over such inequality. In the last five years of office McCreevy's tax cuts massively favoured the rich and overlooked the low wage and deprived households. Now the cutbacks in health, education and housing are affecting the very weakest in society. McCreevy could have used the last year to plan spending policies that would not penalise the poor. He didn't, instead he misled us and then, when faced with the need to enforce cuts, allowed other departments to cut services that will impact greatest on the weakest in society.

In the early 1990s we had to withstand McCreevy's 'dirty dozen' cuts in social welfare spending. It is shameful that, despite ten years of boom, here we are again.
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