Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Why I'd stake our economy on an Irish casino

Michael Noonan wants people to spend again

Cutting through the euphoria that came with the modest cut in our bailout interest rate, it has become clear that we still need something to kick-start the economy.

You can't grow by cutting. And we can't get out of the debt crisis without growing the economy. We need our own Marshall Plan, part- funded by the €800m savings in the bailout interest rate, to stimulate growth again unless we want to face a "lost decade" of joblessness and zero opportunities.

The roads have improved beyond belief but the NRA has had to stall a number of projects because of the lack of international finance for public-private partnerships (PPP). Construction projects equal jobs. Major projects such as the Luas spur, Western corridor or a massive overhaul of the water and waste network could be addressed as the €184bn National Development Plan is brought back on line.

The car scrappage scheme has worked well with 30,000 cars sold under the trade support scheme. It can be extended to other goods and services. What about office equipment or household goods or even clothes or shoes?

New companies pay no tax for the first three years. Not a cent. There's also no employee tax on staff earning a certain amount of money for the first couple of years. ESB and Bord Gais also provide cut-price power to new companies in return for long contracts. Cutting corporate tax from 12.5% to 9.9% would annoy the crap out of our European partners but would help boost Irish business. The move to cut Vat was a step in the right direction but anecdotal evidence suggests that it hasn't been enough to kick-start the restaurant, pub and entertainment sector. Taking another 5% off the tax rate might help. The retail sector is dying before our eyes. Last week's move to appoint receivers to Superquinn shows just how tough trading remains. Michael Noonan has called for people to start spending again. That's a big ask, especially if we don't know if we'll have a job next week or if there'll be enough money to pay the mortgage after new taxes. The Croke Park agreement doesn't allow for job cuts or pay cuts in the public sector. How about issuing a portion of their pay in the form of vouchers that must be spent in Irish shops? Vouchers off a chunk of a washing machine, car, sofa or even an Irish hotel.

The wildly ambitious Spirit of Ireland project, which would involve bricking up valleys in the West of Ireland to create massive hydroelectricity stations, is bonkers - but it might work. Richard Quirke's casino in Two-Mile-Borris is a barmy idea - but it's a big idea and we need those.

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