WE all expected the worst from Budget 2013; we have become accustomed to doing so in Budgets. Somehow we all feel a little bit better if we can wake up the next morning and say ‘’it wasn’t as bad as we feared’. The problem this year is that it will take time for the effects to kick in. However, there is little doubt that each of us will be keenly aware of just how much worse off we are in the months ahead.
There were a number of smash-and-grab elements that are hard to justify when one talks of a Budget being fair. Eamon Gilmore promised that it would be a fair Budget where those who had most would pay the most. The Budget failed utterly on that test. Indeed the Labour Party seem to have struggled to have any real impact at all. They were thrown a few crumbs here and there but in reality Joan Burton seems to be the only Labour Minister who can genuinely say that she fought and won. The protection of core welfare payments was her objective and she managed to secure this. There are other hidden cuts to telephone and electricity and changes to dole payments that will hurt many but overall Burton can claim at least a measure of success.
After that, Fine Gael flexed their muscle and won out in most other areas. The fact that IBEC was so supportive of the Budget may tell you all you need to know about who actually framed or wrote it. The fact that every worker in the country has been hit by the PRSI change and that it disproportionately hits lower paid workers is overlooked. The lower paid are of course the ‘patriots’ those people that Brendan Howlin spoke so glowingly of yesterday, a proud people facing the challenge. They take the pain and grimly push on hoping things will get better. It seems, however, that all thoughts of such patriotism disappear as your income rises. Nobody dares to ask higher-paid workers to pay more tax because, we are told, they will just leave the country. That sentiment makes it sound a bit like a prison for the rest of us.
The Budget displayed many features that people will be angry about as the months go by. It may not incite us to revolution on the streets but it will undoubtedly serve to erode the confidence people had in this Government. The Government has now taken all it can take. Blood cannot be squeezed from a stone. On Tuesday I said that, for the people, this Budget was a case of ‘thus far shall we go, but no farther’. The Government must heed this.
Budget 2013 will bring much hardship and it will do so because the Government has failed to do its job before this. A deal on Ireland’s debt will happen.
There should be no claps on the back for getting it, because being quite honest, if we never elected a government at all that deal would still have to come. We needed that deal sooner, we needed it this year and the failure of the Government to achieve this stands as a damning indictment of their strategy. Like their predecessors, the Government is convinced that what it does is necessary and for the good of the country and that it a partner with an EU that wants to help. The reality is that at least some of the measures we are taking make no sense at all and the EU is concerning itself with a longer game, and effects on other countries, with little care for what happens on the ground in Ireland in the meantime. Ireland can wait.
After a savage Budget that is intent on sacrificing ordinary families on the altar of a socio-economic model that no one is even sure they like or want, it is time to say enough. Every government deserves some time and space to deal with a problem. This Government has now had ample time to prove its worth. Its strategy has been no different to that of the last government.
The Government must start to show the mettle in Europe that it seems so able to display at home. The same tough talking about what’s necessary when cutting health budgets, homecare packages, children’s allowance or adjusting welfare needs to be wheeled out when talking to our partners in Europe. The Budget was a last spin of the dice to convince the world that we have made every honest effort possible.
By accepting this Budget the Irish people are handing Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan a sword. With it they can now acknowledge our efforts and cut us the new deal that everyone knows must come, or if they can’t do that, then it is time to fall on that very sword.
This country cannot take another Budget like this. A deal on debt must be secured first and this is not something that should happen at the eleventh hour, it should be the priority for early in the New Year. Ireland will wait no longer.
Johnny Fallon is a political commentator