Analysis

Thursday 31 July 2014

Country is falling apart in front of us

Published 09/12/2012|05:00

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We have lost our ability to distinguish right from wrong and Labour has sold its soul for a mere mess of pottage, writes Jody Corcoran

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The numbers have yet to be crunched, but in reality this is likely to be the second "regressive" Budget in a row; if that is proven, the reality will be profound. Last year, the ESRI concluded that the top 10 per cent saw their income drop by 0.8 per cent after the Budget but the income of the bottom 10 fell by 2.5 per cent.

Acroynms, statistics and words like "regressive" are cold and detached and can seem unfeeling to the reality that is now for the many thousands of people who are suffering. So let me put it another way, as the tabloids might put it: women were hammered in this Budget – working mothers and stay-at-home mothers were crucified. Let us not look beyond the cut to child benefit.

What will be the consequences? Within weeks, thousands of women, and their children, will be condemned to a life, maybe a lifetime of poverty, real poverty, of a kind unimaginable, unacceptable, in fact, in a modern society. It is a pure and absolute disgrace.

Economist Brian Lucey said he doesn't want to live in an economy, he wants to live in a society. This Budget has taken a wrecking ball to the illusion of society.

In the kind of twilight disconnect that can grip a dying empire, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Chris Hedges described the US as a country transfixed by illusions.

The virtues that sustain a country, that build a community, from honesty to self-sacrifice, from transparency to sharing, are ridiculed by our modern culture of celebrity.

The ethic of Wall Street, the City or the IFSC is the ethic of celebrity. The same goes for Google, Facebook, Starbucks – take your pick, choose them all and others if you want.

We wear their T-shirts, we do their work, but they pay no real dividend to a society that makes them rich. So what will happen to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion? As Hedges has said, such a society, a society such as ours has become, will slowly die. The cult of self is killing Ireland.

In any transcendental argument, we use one thing we can know – the nature of our experiences – to counter arguments we cannot know, something or other about the nature of the world.

This Budget raises a simple question, beyond what they are told in connection with their constituents: what do politicians really know?

Do they know a mother can not get a rent allowance if her heat source is oil? Why is that? The people who construct such a rule will, doubtless, have a "valid" reason. But how many of them have sat in a cold house for a week, a child's nose running like a tap, no food in the fridge?

They have a reason for everything else. Last week, they also chased down the irredeemable smoker who rolls his own, shuffling foot-to-foot outside the bookies, the kind of man, it is nearly always a man, who is as harmless as they come.

Those reasons will be "valid", too – health costs money – but what kind of mind chases down these things, seeks out a taxable pouch of tobacco like a bloodhound when such a cost would mean less than nothing to so many? The decline of Ireland began before this Budget, before the first "regressive" budget, before the bust, before the boom, before the last bust, too.

It began when we shifted from a place of production to a place of consumption.

For real growth and prosperity, we have substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity. In the process, we have lost so much more than an ability to create. We have lost our ability to distinguish what is right from what is wrong. And we have lost our imagination, too.

So now the bill must be paid. But who will pay it?

In distillation, it is women who will pay it. Working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, and children, are asked to lift the economy, the country, as if they do not already have enough to burden their back.

The cut to child benefit will cost some families up to €1,500 a year. "I am sunk," a mother told me on Wednesday night.

These women are to be assisted by all those struggling to make ends meet, somewhere in the middle, two ends of a desperate week; by the elderly and by those far under water, the cosh of banks already on their head.

This was a jobs Budget, we were told, a pro-business Budget or whatever; as last year we were told a mere €75m would be shaved, bacon-sliced from the allowances – not the pay, not the pensions, not the incremental increases – but the allowances of workers in the public sector.

The cut to child benefit will save €120m; PRSI changes will take €70m from the lowly paid; the slash to respite care comes in at just €26m. Labour has sold its soul for a mess of pottage. That's their look-out; but somebody, somewhere, write a cheque, please – let's protect the carers – before we must formally draw a line under a once decent place to live.

Many in the public sector are struggling too, of course; no more than you can categorise as a whole any group, no more than mothers sponge on the State, no more than the squeezed middle are automatons of paragon, workers in the public sector suffer too.

But they have heat in their homes, food on the tables, school uniforms in the hot press; and many others among them are not struggling at all, but are thriving, in fact, and they will still do nothing to lift the economy, the country, other than to talk. All of us, of course, private and public, are paying back for the crimes of bankers, national and international.

We have become a nation of voyeurs. We watch people struggle, surrender and sink with an unblinking eye, as we are being watched with an unbeating heart.

The humiliation is permitted with a superficial charm, grandiosity and so much self-importance to make you sick. Fine Gael has calculated the support of just one-sixth of people to stay in power. That one-sixth will cope with Wednesday without recourse to a calculator. But Fine Gael is wrong and must be shown to be wrong.

On the radio now, there has been a call for a "solidarity" fund, a tax or levy for the next few years. Set it up, Enda, if you dare; make it voluntary if you want – but ringfence it from the banks and the marketeers and we will show you what Ireland is made of.

Sunday Independent

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