independent

Friday 18 April 2014

For goodness sake, Enda, think about the children

Omens are bad for Coalition when the squeezed middle can't treat family to a day out, says John Drennan

It is tempting for a somewhat dismayed Government to believe the revival of Fianna Fail is all about the Irish Berlusconi gene.

The electorate may know that it should be supporting the good works of puritanical Fine Gael and Labour.

But Paddy is not naturally good and will always, given half a chance, return to the charming opportunists of Fianna Fail.

The escalating political decline of the Grumpy Old Men of FG and Labour can be explained by more prosaic factors than the eternal battle of the id and the ego.

A curious thing was observed last summer by a trader at the dozens of country fairs around Ireland.

Normally such events are full of excited children spending money on ice-cream, rides and other childish activities.

Last summer, however, our man observed the cashless child, where, for the first time ever, parents had no money to give to their children.

Such minutiae may be beneath the attention of the the troika or the ECB, who believe the wretched citizenry should be grateful to merely exist.

However, 'Dear Leader' Enda would be wise not to discount the story of the cashless children for they are the latest example of the sort of living death citizens experience when life is all about paying down debt rather than actually living.

But the Government does realise, in theory, that their key problem is the increasingly pauperised condition of the squeezed middle.

The problem the Coalition has been unable or unwilling to solve is that while it knows the people are poor, every action they take only serves, with the exceptions of the welfare and the billionaire classes, to accentuate that poverty.

Our Grumpy Old Men may know the great crisis afflicting Irish society is unemployment and that the only way this can be combated is by putting more cash in the pockets of the squeezed middle and their cashless children at the fair.

And if there were any doubts about this reality, they must surely have been erased by the speed with which the Coalition's equivocal prom-note triumph was swept into the dustbin of history.

Instead, four political horsemen of the apocalypse: Croke Park II, property tax, water charges and child benefit reform, are going to suck more cash out of our frail economy over the next two years.

Nothing epitomised more the landmines this Government must segue nervously through than the report of the 'nice academics' into child benefit. In the end, Joan Burton's political execution of the report of the 'nice academics' represented one of the great political escapes; for a more gauche minister might have accepted the 'nice academics' apparent belief that putting a stealthy hand into mum's purse to allow the HSE build childcare castles in the air, would win over voters.

Sadly, despite the swiftness of the U-turn, the damage may already have been done, for the 'nice academics' provided us with yet another example of the strange ambivalence that seems to exist among the State's elite towards the squeezed middle.

Middle Ireland may have the cheek to possess the 'honest opinion' that they have rights and the State has some obligations to defend them.

However, the report of the 'nice academics' provided us with yet another example of the belief among our elite that the role of the squeezed middle is to keep its trap shut and smilingly accept its 'patriotic duty' to subsidise the gambling losses of foreign bankers, bonus schemes for domestic bankers, the salaries of the highest paid bureaucrats in Europe and the lifestyles of the highest-paid social welfare class in Europe.

The bad news for this Government is that while the Social Protection Minister managed to transform the report of the 'nice academics' into the political equivalent of a Cheshire cat, there is no shortage of other woes.

Even before an autumn war begins over water charges and a property tax that will be levied on that squeezed middle, which has already paid its stamp duty, the battle between the Government and its frontline workers is poised to inflict more wounds upon the Coalition.

The spark for this was lit by Alan Shatter's gauche political handling of the gardai, which has now created a bushfire of public sector discontent that will take a lot of ditch-digging to contain.

Indeed, it may already be too late, for public sector workers are recalling en masse that it was always FF who looked after them and Fine Gael who cut their wages.

As last week's Millward Brown poll shows, the public sector has repossessed the political 'prom note' they gave to FG and returned to FF.

Outside of dealing with the current quadruple whammy the Government is facing further trouble.

Tension is growing in FG over abortion and third-level grants. And when it comes to the mortgage arrears crisis, an increasingly unhappy Paddy wants a citizens' 'prom note', which will provide him with certainty, sustainability and a bit of cash-flow.

The omens do not look too good on that front for already the 'celebrated' Noonan 'prom note' deal is increasingly resembling a choke chain, which will be used to keep Paddy on the straight and narrow should he get any notions.

Despite all of the shadow-dancing by Labour, when it comes to the 'prom note' victory, there will be no "if I have it I spend it" Charlie McCreevy-style stimulus.

It is doubtful our cautious Finance Minister was planning any of that McCreevy stuff anyway.

But if the ECB cardinals have placed a fiscal fatwa on that notion, though some elements of the Government will fret over the social consequences of eternal austerity, Mr Noonan will not be for turning.

Such a scenario is unlikely to ease the concerns of those politically literate government ministers who are aware of what will happen to them if Ireland continues to pursue the current zombie economics.

They know it is no coincidence that Barack Obama is the only top-level political leader who has been returned to power since our 'Great Disruption' began.

If Messrs Kenny and Noonan want to be on the government section of the reviewing stand during the 1916 commemorations they should realise that had Obama taken a similar economic stance as the ECB, Romney would have won pulling up.

We, alas, do not have an Obama or anything like him, but, now that FF's period of exile is over, we do have an alternative.

And like the tearful Nile crocodile, Micheal Martin will, if the austerity vice continues to squeeze middle Ireland's cashless children, be able to cry as effectively as Enda over the mess this Government is making of cleaning up the mess which FF left.

Irish Independent

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