We must take TK Whitaker’s advice


Whether it was the protests in France at the increased retirement age or the announcement by the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer of the axing of almost a half a million public sector jobs, events during recent weeks reminded us that Ireland is not alone in facing tough decisions.
True: while the problems faced by those in the United Kingdom and France are not as bad as the ones we face here at home, the nature is the same, as is the basic unifying cause: the collapse of the global credit system.
It is confirmation that countries across Europe, indeed the world, are intensifying efforts to reduce their budget deficits and restore order to their finances.
It is also interesting to note how of these countries see 2014 as the optimum target date to restore their economies and to address the structural deficits exposed by the global slump.
The spending review produced by UK Chancellor George Osborne recently set out how he plans to cut public spending by the equivalent of €90billion (£80Bn) over the next four years – this is on top of the £6Bn he cur last June.
As I mentioned earlier, the stakes are even higher for us as the concerns and negative commentary I spoke about last week have caused financial markets to reduce sentiment toward Ireland leading to increased borrowing costs for the State.
These costs need to be reduced. So too does the amount we borrow each year just to keep the lights on. For this reason the recent meeting between the Taoiseach and opposition party leaders was important.
While it is regrettable that the meeting did not achieve more and will not, it appears, be followed by other such meetings, it was useful in sending a strong signal out to the markets that the main political parties here are at one in their determination to meet the 2014 deadline and to achieve the targets set out by this Government.
As I have been saying here for the past two years, a defeatist approach won’t get us anywhere. We have the ability, creativity and capacity within ourselves to ensure the country returns to a path of growth.
This was true back in the 1960s when TK Whitaker, one of the main architects of our economic progress, observed: “…we shall not allow ourselves to be over-awed by future difficulties or to fall into despondency by reason of temporary reverses and setbacks.”
The same quality was recognised again more recently by no less a figure than President Bill Clinton who said that he believed that the abilities and talent that made Ireland the fastest growing country in Europe would also help us recover now.
The latest trade figures published on Thursday back this up. The July and August figures show a 12% and 13% increase in exports respectively compared with the same months last year. This increased market share is primarily due to our increasing productivity and indicates a reversal of the trend between January and April when exports fell slightly.
Talking about the positives is not to underestimate the scope of the difficulties ahead – it is just to put things in context. There are some important positives we need to keep in mind when looking to the future.
There are 480,000 more people at work in this country today than in 1997. Many of the most successful international companies operate here and others are joining them. We have phenomenal rates of US investment US investment in Ireland is 80 times what it is in Greece and 23 times that in Portugal.
While we cannot talk or wish ourselves into growth, we can talk and depress ourselves back into a slump. TK Whitakers words should feature in the opening paragraph of political leader’s speech in the months ahead.

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