Finance Minister Brian Lenihan “is living in cloud cuckoo land” if he thinks Ireland “has a thriving economy”, particularly when new figures show retail sales have fallen through the floor, says Waterford Senator Maurice Cummins.

Commenting on the Minister’s brave face boasts on BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ last week, the Fine Gael senator said: “Irish retailers have seen the greatest collapse in sales since 1984, with retail sales volumes falling by 8.1% in the year to November 2008.

“The Government is clueless about how to solve the economic crisis and steer Ireland out of recession. But Minister Lenihan’s remarks show the Government is also in denial about the scale of the crisis facing Irish families and workers.”

The former mayor says “these ongoing denials from the Government are damaging the country’s chances of a swift recovery – they undermine confidence among both the Irish public and international investors about the Government’s competence and ability to solve the underlying problems.

“Minister Lenihan’s ability to steer Ireland through the recession is already in serious doubt. His latest comments suggest he is either in denial, or has a tenuous grasp on reality.”

Tourism meltdown

Meanwhile, Mr Cummins says CSO visitor figures for November prove “Irish tourism is in meltdown”, with overseas visitors down 12.3% year-on-year.

“Ireland’s reputation as the ‘Land of a Hundred Thousand Welcomes’ can’t withstand high prices and mismanagement,” he asserts. “Overall trips to Ireland are down 2.1% for the year to November (160,000 fewer visits), with holidaymakers from the key UK and US markets having plummeted in 2008.

“This trend of tourists staying away is now absolutely certain and it is crystal clear that the results for the fourth quarter will be catastrophic,” he says, accusing Fianna Fáil of making “all the wrong moves when it comes to revitalising the economy and our tourism industry”.

Citing our UK-friendly VAT hike, the “daft” ‘Departure Tax’ at airports, and the effect of soaring electricity costs due to the 3.5% ESB wage increase., he says Fine Gael will reverse these measures and exempt employers from paying PRSI on all new staff in order to encourage recruitment.