I have entered the Dáil at a particularly challenging time in our history, to put it mildly. No other Irish Government has inherited such a severe financial situation but I feel that in the first 100 days, we have taken important steps towards rebuilding confidence in our economy.
The Government has wasted no time in getting down to the business of getting the country working again. We have restructured the banking system, making €12 billion of extra credit available to Irish businesses every year, announced a jobs initiative, focusing on stimulating labour-intensive sectors of the economy.
Within three weeks of coming to power we announced a comprehensive restructuring & recapitalisation plan for the domestic banks which involves the setting up of two pillar banks. This has been very well received by depositors and markets and lays the foundation for a functioning banking system which is vital for our economy and for local businesses. More recently Minister Noonan’s comments have encapsulated the government’s policy to investigate the possibility of burden sharing with senior bond holders in Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society.
Banking boards, management and culture are being addressed and bondholders, particularly in the ‘hopeless-case’ banks, are sharing the rescue costs.
Job creation is at the heart of the Government’s policy making and decisions. The Government’s Jobs Initiative has introduced practical, sensible measures to stimulate economic growth and in doing so, create job opportunities. The lower rate of employers PRSI has been halved and on top of this VAT on tourism-related services has been cut by a third.
The Government has announced its intention to get rid of the airline tax introduced by the last government on the condition that the airlines re-open routes which will help bring more tourists into the country. The abolition of the transport tax can only be good for Dublin airport, upon which many jobs in this constituency depend.
I spoke last week in the Dáil on the Social Welfare Bill about the importance of the restoration of the minimum wage, which the Government has brought about. Fine Gael and our coalition partners has restored the minimum wage because we believe that there is a threshold of decency and that work must be incentivised.
I am particularly heartened by the political reforms introduced by the Government in order to make us more transparent and democratic. The Taoiseach and the Cabinet have taken pay cuts, the number of Dáil committees has been reduced radically and the Government will introduce legislation to cut the numbers of TDs that can be elected to the next Dáil.
We have halved the cost of Ministerial transport by getting rid of ministerial cars. For me, this was an important statement by the Taoiseach about the priorities and motivations of this Government and marks a clean break with the “Mercs and perks” approach of the previous administration.
The Government has allocated €1.5 million to undo the damage done to the main roads in North Dublin during the recent harsh winter. This amounts to 20% of the funds allocated to the Greater Dublin Area and is €400,000 more than any other council has received.
In light of the challenges we face I think it is appropriate to mention Dr. Garrett FitzGerald. He was a man who defined public service and his tireless engagement in the political scene right up until his death in May spoke volumes of his commitment to his country. I had the pleasure of meeting him on the first day of the 31st Dáil. As politicians, I think we can all draw inspiration from his devotion to his country as we face into the task of turning our fortunes around.