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10 April 2003 Edition

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Ahern's "winning formula"

BY ROBBIE SMYTH


Welcome to new Fianna Fáil. Their leader is sending them on a constitutional crusade where they will have to take on exploitative builders and developers while halting profiteering by the medical legal and other professions, as well as retail cartels. And we will have new constitutional provisions to take profit out of property rights.

Just for the record, Ahern has been leading a government now for nearly six years. During the first five years of this era, he massively slashed taxes in a way that benefited the already wealthy far more than the ordinary worker.

25% of the §4.8 billion given away went to the top 10% while the lowest earning 20% had to be content with 5% of the tax cuts.

During this time Fianna Fail made absolutely no attempt to deal with the §9.8 billion has been lost every year in tax reliefs that favour the already rich. Then last year, with a clearly faltering economy, the cabinet agreed pre-election spending increases that boosted public sector employment by 30,000 people, masking the effect of private sector redundancies.

Then the same cabinet, having misled the public about the state of finances, introduced a budget with massive spending cuts, particularly in areas of dire social need like community employment schemes, housing and education. They also cut business taxes and imposed on ordinary households a range of stealth taxes, particularly in energy, transport and healthcare.

At the same time, there are huge questions, particularly in the area of telecommunications, health and transport, about how efficiently these services are being run with little visible signs from the government that things are actually changing.

With all this in mind, consider Bertie Ahern's address last week at the Irish Management Institute's annual conference in Killarney. Ahern told the delegates it was time to get "back to basics". His government had "a clear strategy" and a "winning formula". Great, so what are the details of this new start?

Ahern said that "for too long those who have enjoyed a privileged position in Irish society, shielded from the pressures of international competition, have had it too easy".

Ahern was "sending out a clear message" that these people "had better get real". Ahern was going to call a "halt to profiteering" by the "learned professions or local monopolies or middlemen of whatever kind".

Ahern also took time to take on that old friend of Fianna Fáil - the property developer builder community. He said that it was time, "development enriched the many and not the few".

Ahern believes that there will be changes to the constitution to deal "once and for all" with the issue of affordable housing controlling the costs of building land. This was, he said, "central to the issue of affordable housing".

Before you get too excited, you have to realise that this issue is being dealt with by the Oireachtas all-party committee on the constitution, whose job it is to come with the magic formula that will redefine property rights in favour of the ordinary people.

Sinn Féin has a TD on this committee, Arthur Morgan, who told An Phoblacht that the committee chair is in no hurry and proposes spending the next four years or perhaps longer deliberating on the issue.

By then "we could be back to the famine situation of the 1840s with people dying on the side of the street, while the modern day equivalent of the rack renters count their profits if this issue is let fester", said Morgan.

Despite Ahern's tough stance, there was no actual meat to his threats. There were no proposals on new wealth taxes or even a review of the range of tax avoidance schemes his and other governments have introduced.

His tough talk of controlling inflation and delivering real growth must be seen in the context of inflation rates already at 5%, still rising government spending, and an infrastructure programme with costs spiralling out of control.

But let's not be too hard on Bertie. Let's give him time to deliver on this new crusade. He has set the bar fairly high. Any time in the next few weeks will be fine.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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