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Sunday 25 September 2016

Gene Kerrigan: Coalition's only skill is putting the boot in

Subservience is clearly at the heart of this Government's master plan -- and little else, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 09/09/2012 | 05:00

Roisin Shortall, Junior Health Minister, is an awful eejit. Enda Kenny, too. That's not my opinion. That appears to be the opinion of James Reilly, Minister for Cutting Aid to the Disabled.

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And Reilly isn't the only one who thinks Shortall and Kenny are a few preferences short of a quota. Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Shrinking Educational Resources, seems to share this low opinion of his two colleagues.

It's hard to come to any other conclusion after last week's health-cuts shambles.

To make matters more interesting, the world has been treated to a sample of the wisdom of the loquacious Alan Shatter. And, in a week already full of drama, Professor Patrick Honohan, governor of the Central Bank, has decided to announce that he's in favour of burning bondholders.

Good man, Pat. You're a couple of years too late, and tens of billions have been thrown away, but -- what the hell -- glad to have you onside at last.

Highlight of the week was when James Reilly went on Prime Time and explained that he was never going to cut funding for personal assistants for the severely disabled. It would have been a rotten thing do do, smacking those people back to the dark ages. But, Reilly was adamant: "It was never going to happen."

Ruairi Quinn rushed to back him up. There was a proposal for cuts "for future clients", said Ruairi. "Not for existing clients."

So, there you are. The State will provide indispensable supports for severely disabled people who desperately need them. But only for the severely disabled people who desperately need them now. The severely disabled people who will desperately need such supports next year and the year after can just bugger off.

Okay, then. But why were all those people, whose quality of life depends on those funds, protesting outside the Dail?

Reilly said the media was to blame -- all the media "noise" prevented people from understanding the truth. Ruairi Quinn said the HSE had explained it all, "And somewhere in that communication, different people heard different things".

What a lovely phrase. The HSE spoke the truth, but as the words travelled from the HSE's lips, "different people heard different things". Positively biblical. Genesis 11:7, I think: "Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

In fact, the severely disabled were apparently so deluded that they mounted a protest and sat outside the Dail all night. These smart, hard-nosed, determined people are, it seems, bloody eejits. There was no need for protest. "It was never going to happen."

Bizarrely, the junior minister at the Department of Health, Roisin Shortall, shared the delusions of the disabled. "I very much welcome the decision that has been taken to revisit these cuts," said Shortall. "I welcome the fact the Government has changed its position on that now."

This disease of delusion also spread to Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He said James Reilly ought "to be admired" for "having the courage" to instruct "the HSE not to proceed with that particular cut".

So, here we have Reilly (Fine Gael) and Quinn (Labour) claiming there were never going to be cuts. And Shortall (Labour) and Kenny (Fine Gael) saying there were. This was no Fine Gael versus Labour showdown. This was panic. They put the boot into the severely disabled because -- well, they're vulnerable, and what are they gonna do about it?

I mean, suppose you put the boot into the millionaire set, the people who know there's a recession only because they heard Bryan Dobson mention it on the Six-One News.

Put the boot into them and they'll have a war council with their lawyers and accountants. They'll stop making donations to the party. They'll refuse to cough up for those fund-raising golf games.

But, kick the disabled, pick the pockets of the blind guy -- I mean, what's he gonna do, hit you with his cane?

So, the boot went in. But the disabled came out fighting. And the Government flinched. It proved one thing -- make a fuss, let people see the boot is going in, and you've got a chance.

Happily for the Government, one of its stalwarts came forth next day to issue a rallying cry to the forces of austerity.

"One of the many important things I have learned in my many years in political life is the need for backbone," said Alan Shatter, Minister for Closing Garda Stations.

Ah, backbone. Stand fast, ye warriors of austerity, when those pesky folk in their wheelchairs come thundering towards Merrion Street. Do not, Shatter said, "succumb to targeted lobbying by vested interests".

Now, here, I've got to slightly disagree with Mr Shatter. If there's one thing this Government could never be accused of, it's having a backbone. This Government -- whatever you think of it -- has made a virtue of subservience to the EU, the ECB and assorted folk in very expensive suits.

The strategy is to suck up to the troika, to more than "meet the targets", to degrade the economy, to bow and scrape and hope for a favour. And, when the ECB folk are in a good mood, they might well ease some of the debt that Enda has taken on, on our behalf. And Enda will announce a victory.

Now, I don't think it's a good strategy. But subservience is certainly at the heart of the Government's master plan.

As though to illustrate this, that very day Professor Honohan did his "burn the bondholders" bit. He made a speech in support of the new ECB initiative to save the euro, announced by Mario Draghi. Honohan thinks it's a good thing, that it could work. And he might be right.

In the course of that speech he said, "Losses should be shared by both junior and senior creditors where necessary". Bondholders, he thinks, should share with citizens the cost of bailing out the banks who went bust by gambling.

Now, I think he's got this backwards. Banks and bondholders, with their eyes open, gambled billions. That's their business. Our responsibility for their gambling is zero.

The notion that they might take a bit of our burden -- when we've been forced to take the entire burden of their failed gambles, is an odd way of looking at things. Their bad gambles should not cost us one red cent.

Making it clear the State was forced to load debt onto us, Honohan says the piling of losses onto the citizen, "has been rightly subject to extensive criticism". He is referring to the 2008 guarantee and later, when the Kenny Government sought to get bondholders to take a little of the losses. He makes it clear that this was vetoed by the ECB and EU commission: "It is very doubtful that. . . European official partners would have countenanced the imposition of losses on senior bank creditors at any stage during 2008-11."

So, here we have government ministers fighting amongst themselves over whether or not they were going to give the severely disabled a right kicking.

It's what happens when you embrace the politics of subservience.

Sunday Independent

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