FOCUSED?An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, pictured at his desk in Government Buildings.
Kenny: the bigger picture is my priority
In part one of an exclusive interview with The Mayo News, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny sets out his belief that the country is very close to emerging from the recession and explains why he is prioritising national issues
Taoiseach Enda Kenny can see the light. Ireland is still very much in the mire. Unemployment, emigration, job cuts and mortgage arrears are huge problems in Ireland in 2013 but as he prepares for the Dáil to resume ahead of another austerity budget, Enda Kenny can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“This is an economic challenge. We’re putting our house in order. We’re nearly there. We still have some fragilities to deal with, some challenges ... It’s been a hard slog, on a journey of one-to-ten we’ve travelled eight-and-a-half steps.
“We’ll have one and a half to go and that’s to get up on the dry land and prepare to fly ourselves. So I would say to people: stick with it now. We’ve got a lot of momentum, we don’t want to lose that by doing anything stupid here. Life is never easy at the best of times; it’s not easy these times but I see where the opportunity lies up ahead,” said Enda Kenny.
He passed the halfway mark as Taoiseach last week and while he walked into an economic mess, two and a half years later, does he feel some responsibility for the difficult situations people find themselves in?
“What I would say to you is that there are 1,800 new businesses being set-up every month now, you have 630 new jobs nett being created every week, you’ve had a constant reduction in the unemployment figures, and the Live Register [figures]. These are important but we want them to be much lower in terms of unemployment and higher in terms of jobs being created.
“Emigration is always a difficulty ... [Some of the] people I meet in many other countries go there for experience because it is their choice, they want to go. The ones I feel sorry for, who feel that they have to leave because there’s no hope here, and if politics is about anything, it is about demonstrating that there is hope and there is an opportunity for the future.
“We see the trend going in the right direction. We still have a long way to go. We hope to be the first country in Europe to get out of a [Troika] programme, at the back end of this year, on target.
“And that means we create circumstances where our reputation is intact, where the markets continue to invest in Ireland, where interest rates continue to be low, where we can raise money on the international markets which we were blocked out of for the last number of years.
“[Conditions] where we’re back in there now again, and fly on our own ... We have an enormous opportunity but everybody has a part to play in that”.
“I’m happy that our programme is being followed here, we are emerging from this programme and that’s all about bringing back the sunshine to people’s lives, where they’ll have the opportunity to work and have employment and have prosperity and have a bit of confidence that their futures and their families are intact and in safe hands.”
One issue which has received a lot of traction lately is the issue of jobs locally, or lack thereof. The empty IDA park in Castlebar is seen by many as a blight on the Taoiseach himself and there have been frequent calls by local councillors for the Taoiseach to use his influence to help his county on this issue.
You ask him about the jobs issue locally and his answer is emphatic - the national economy’s problems must be his priority and to put local issues first would be putting the cart before the horse.
“You have a responsibility as a locally elected deputy but you also have a responsibility as the head of government. You’re not going to be able to deliver jobs locally unless you sort out the nation’s problems and that’s why the big and difficult decisions about Ireland’s economy have been so crucial and so difficult for people to have to accept and have to deal with but the reality is the people gave this government an unprecedented mandate. They gave me an unprecedented mandate.
“That problem is not going to be solved by attempting to provide jobs in any local area around the country without dealing with the fundamental issue that our economy was out of control. You had no reputation left, your international perception was in shreds,” he said.
He outlines an increase in employment figures, new companies coming on stream and cites a number of local developments such as the Srah to Louisburgh water network, €11 million for Castlebar’s Sacred Heart Hospital and infrastructure such as the Ballaghaderreen bypass and the road from Turlough to Westport as examples of an upward curve.
“These are things that have happened in a time of great economic challenge and there’s so much more ... Unemployment’s too high. But we can’t get the full benefit unless you deal with the fundamental problem at national level.
“We’re still borrowing €1 billion every month to provide services. That’s why you’ve gone through the difficult thing of Haddington Road, Croke Park, public sector redundancies, reductions in pay, all of these things. They are very hard to take, very hard to deal with. Mortgage distress and all of that.
“But you have to deal with them in as fair a way as you can to sort out the problem so people will have the opportunity to have prosperity up ahead.
“So for those who say just because you happen to be in government that you can pinpoint any individual area and say ‘here’s a big bonanza for you’, it never works that way until you get the big picture right.”
Kenny - no fear for Mayo General
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said there is no fear for services at Mayo General Hospital.
While there have been constant concerns locally about the possible withdrawal of services to Galway, the Castlebar-based Taoiseach told The Mayo News the hospital has ‘a very bright future’.
“There is no fear for Mayo General Hospital. All these allegations that were being made are nothing but spurious talk. There’s a very bright future there. That’s epitomised by Professor [Michael] Kerin for instance, making the decision, along with NUIG, to invest €2 million in the old church on St Mary’s grounds [opposite Mayo General] to turn it into a theatre and research unit for breast cancer,” he said.
He argued that the new hospital groups will actually benefit Mayo General, which is part of the north-western group including all Galway hospitals, Roscommon, Sligo and Letterkenny and believes the term of this government will see even more fundamental changes to the health service in Ireland.
“The structure of the health service was not delivering the way that we wanted it to deliver. We want to move to a system of where you have a single universal health insurance policy and that means that everyone is treated the same in the sense of being a private patient, that you don’t have a two-tier system, private and public, so that’s going to take until the end of the lifetime of the current government to implement.”
Economic recovery comes first for Kenny
ENDA Kenny has tunnel vision and there is light at the end of that tunnel for the people of County Mayo and the entire country. That is the most important message he tells The Mayo News in the first part of our in-depth interview. We all know since the failed cappuccino coup of 2010 that the smug D4 media soubriquet of ‘Enda Lite’ was a myth. Since his appointment as Taoiseach on March 9, 2011, we have witnessed one example after another of the affable Mayo man’s steeliness and resolve.
One unequivocal example of this was six months ago, at the height of the abortion referendum debate, he told Cardinal Brady that as Taoiseach his book was the Constitution, and since the Constitution was determined by the people, his duty and responsibility was to the citizens of the republic.
He reconfirms this important conviction here when he argues that this government was given ‘an unprecedented mandate’ to resolve the seismic economic issues that have left this country both haemorrhaging jobs and its citizens. And there is no place for parish-pump politics or slick local strokes in the successful implementation of a strategy that must focus on the bigger picture before dividends trickle back to his home town and county.
Of course, this does not mean that Mr Kenny is not acutely aware or in-touch with the needs of his own constituents. It is clear in Edwin McGreal’s exclusive interview that, despite his break-neck work schedule at home and abroad, he is up-to-speed on all of Mayo’s major issues – from infrastructure to health, employment to industry. But as Taoiseach those banking and economic problems that have left us teetering on a precipice for the last five years must be addressed first.