LABOUR Party Councillor Harry Barrett has defended his decision to oppose a motion condemning the paying out of a further €1.25 billion this month to unguaranteed and unsecured Anglo Irish Bank bondholders.
The motion was tabled at a meeting of Castlebar Town Council by Sinn Féin Councillor Thérése Ruane who was scathing of the government’s decision to sanction the payment ‘against the backdrop of an austerity budget inflicting great hardship on a huge number of people’.
Councillor Barrett’s stance in supporting the Fine Gael party in successfully defeating the motion 5-4 may have been predictable from a political perspective in view of his action in not supporting a call on the town council last month to register a protest over the severity of the 2012 budget.
Despite the four Fine Gael members being in attendance, it was Councillor Barrett who placed his head firmly on the line by standing up for Finance Minister Michael Noonan and the tough decisions facing him and his cabinet colleagues.
It led to Councillor Ruane accusing Councillor Barrett of ‘disowning his principles’, a charge repeated by her in the aftermath of his opposition to the Anglo Irish Bank motion.
Her claim was obviously a reference to the Labour Party representative’s action in spearheading the holding of a public rally at Market Square in the county town in June 2010 to protest against the then Fianna Fáil-led government’s bailout of Anglo Irish Banks.
Speaking during a debate on an emergency motion submitted by him to the town council the previous April to hold the rally, he stated the public deserved the chance to voice their dissatisfaction at the €22 billion bailout, a situation he described as ‘an act of economic treason’.
“Every family in this town will be affected for years to come in tax increases and a serious deterioration in health, education and social services.
“As elected representatives, we have a duty, in the town that honours Michael Davitt, to protest against a decision by government that will affect every citizen for years to come.
“This money should have been used to stimulate the economy. It should have been used to upgrade our roads, rail, ESB and broadband networks, particularly in this county.
“The result of that would have given work to some of the 450,000 unemployed in the country. Now we have wasted the money and condemned the next class of school leavers to the dole.
“When absentee landlords in this county lost money on the gambling tables in London, the first thing they did when they returned to Mayo was to increase rents on our people. This government is putting us in exactly the same situation again, 150 years later,” he argued.
It contrasts sharply with the views he has aired publicly over the past number of weeks that Ireland has lost its economic sovereignty and has no option but to meet its financial responsibilities due to the bad decision-making of the last government following the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank in 2008.
Speaking at the January meeting of the council, Councillor Barrett said that while he agreed with the central elements of the Sinn Féin motion, the reality is that the consequences will be devastating if the Fine Gael/Labour Party administration reneges on the commitments made to the IMF and others.
He argued if Sinn Féin got its away, Ireland ‘will become another Greece’, where social welfare payments and social welfare salaries were cut in half.
“That’s where we are heading unless we deal with our problems. It’s a disgrace that we have found ourselves in this situation and we have to resolve it the best way we can. The one thing we don’t need to do is to sign up to the gonzo economic politics of Sinn Féin that will lead us astray.
“We should be thankful to have a government with a good conscience to get us out of the mess we are in.”
Councillor Ruane said she is very disappointed in Councillor Barrett at a time when the poor and vulnerable need greater protection.
“The Fine Gael/Labour Party government promised that ‘not another red cent’ would be given to toxic banks such as Anglo Irish Bank. But the promise has been broken.
“A €1.25 billion saving could mean no household charge, no cuts to community projects, no septic tank charge, no cuts to education or health services.
“Such cuts are dividing our society and our government is continuing the failed policies of Fianna Fáil, demonstrating that those who have control of our national purse strings have chosen to protect the ‘haves’ in our society, leaving the ‘have-nots’ to fend for themselves.
“My party opposes this outrageous payout. As a nation, we have political choices. We can choose to pay billions to unguaranteed Anglo bondholders or we can choose to protect families, low earners, public services and Irish businesses.
“The time has come to put the needs of people above the demands of banks, elite bondholders and the IMF.”
Her motion was supported by Councillor Blackie Gavin (FF), Councillor Frank Durcan (Independent) and Councillor Michael Kilcoyne (Independent) but defeated by the five-strong FF/Labour Party alliance.Despite the setback, Councillor Ruane has organised a ‘stop the handover’ day of action to take place in Castlebar tomorrow (Wednesday).