Medb Ruane: It's official -- we are now whipping boys for the rest of Europe
Published 08/12/2010 | 05:00
WELCOME to Austerity Ireland Inc -- brought to you courtesy of the men and women who fuelled the boom.
Now they're leading the bust, you're supposed to believe they've finally learned their lesson. They have not.
Here we go again, bashing the low-hanging fruit. Society hardly exists for them. Sure, Brian Lenihan wants you to know he feels your pain.
"It's a worrying and traumatic time for the citizens of this country," he emoted.
Yes it is. The Irish are the whipping boys of Europe. Anyone who can wants out. The rest are disgusted by what has been done and nauseated at being turned into the worst kind of racial joke.
The Budget needed to steady the horses. It needed to give citizens a reason to keep believing in this place and its future, despite its financial burdens.
It does no such thing. It maintains a vision of the economy which bears no relation at all to its bitter, degraded status. It promises an Ireland worth living in only if you're living at the top -- or downright deluded.
Three years of austerity and the country's social fabric is unravelling. If you didn't know better, it might seem deliberate.
It's car-crash politics, just as watching the banking bailout was in September 2008. I suspect it's because the short-termist ideological position that grew the boom is being applied to this 2010 Budget.
Of course it doesn't work. It just crushes innovation, which means it crushes growth.
A crippling €1.6bn of cuts is made in such key areas as health, children and social protection. This directly affects young families, the ill, the disabled and the 460,000 unemployed. Its social provisions are incoherent and chaotic. Nothing makes sense.
Add on the cosmetic salary cuts to politicians and senior public servants -- along with the bizarre and economically questionable cut to the minimum wage -- and you find a Government with no imagination and no resolve to reform the economy so that real people can make the country work.
Lenihan didn't even pause to acknowledge the powerful efforts people have made to hold things together.
Individuals have maintained this precious social fabric, stitch by stitch, without any reward whatsoever.
Common sense suggests that human capital must be nurtured and grown, so that people continue to pull together. Instead, they're squandering it.
Lenihan tried to turn back time. It sounded as though he and his allies were profoundly dislocated. He reeled in so many years that you were supposed to think you were in a split-screen movie where your tax rates were now back in the 2000s, your welfare rates somewhere else and all those new water and property charges were simply making good the kick in the teeth local authorities received under Charles Haughey over 30 years ago.
The gap between words and deeds was so pronounced that "protecting the vulnerable" actually means keeping the IMF/EMU/ECB/senior bondholders happy, while making families and the low-paid suffer beyond reasonable measure.
There was no mention of elephants in the room, such as massive emigration, negative equity, local employment prospects, rising suicide rates and the shining imperative called 'future growth'.
In real time, there's one question. How do we hold it all together when they're so intent on tearing it apart? Today, you're being asked to limit your ambitions so that the Government and its cronies can maintain their failed beliefs. You're asked to forego hope, desire, even having children (or seeing your grandchildren), so the Government can persuade creditors that we're all good kids. This is not socially sustainable.
Let's get personal. This is Cowen and Lenihan's last Budget. It may keep their fiscal masters happy, wherever they are. But we will not see their like again, as the old Irish saying goes. Their like simply will not be tolerated again.
Cash will come trickling into our lending agencies soon, credit will begin to encourage entrepreneurs and new businesses. Some Irish banks will be gobbled up by global predators who see our troubles as an opportunity to profit. Who'll shed crocodile tears for them?
Goodbye, Brians -- and Marys. Today was a perverse kind of relief.
Tomorrow, we can start hoping -- hoping to have a democratic voice, to start doing things with some sense of justice and, finally, with difficulty, to begin repairing this society that the rest of us call home.