Wednesday 26 October 2016

Kevin Myers: Self-serving TDs ignore our mounting anger at their peril

Published 11/12/2012 | 17:00

IT'S actually possible to make a reasonable case justifying the cut in "respite grants" to carers of the disabled. But it is not possible to do so from the position of the politicians in Dail Eireann whose sacrifice, in this time of national crisis, is merely to halve their envelope allowance, to award themselves new iPads each, and most of all, to gallantly protect their whopping pensions.

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The ministerial statement denouncing "hugely generous pension arrangements subsidised by the taxpayer" during the Budget debate set a high-water mark of dumbfounding hypocrisy to equal Haughey's legendary "We are living beyond our means" broadcast 30 years ago. Here it is: "While this Government wants to encourage those on lower and middle incomes to save for pensions, it will not allow pensions to be accumulated at the expense of the taxpayer."

This, of course, refers to pensions in the private sector. It does not refer to pensions in the public sector, which are not just "subsidised" by the taxpayer, but are funded entirely by that misfortunate halfwit. Senior civil servants (though not their poor underlings) and government ministers routinely retire on pensions of over €100,000 a year.

Whatever valid criticisms there might be about bankers' pensions, most pensions in the private sector are funded by personal and corporate savings, which are put into a managed fund. But the fund does not exist that could pay our retired politicians and senior civil servants the pensions that they have drawn, still draw, and will draw into the rolling eternity before us.

There's always been a perverse relationship between the Irish State and its servants. Underlying this absurdity is the inner conviction that the State primarily exists to disburse funds, regardless of its ability to raise them. The ruinous attachment to what are basically cargo-cult values caused the re-election of Fianna Fail in 1977, with its promises to abolish rates and motor tax, without providing an alternative source of revenue. Cargo cultism then enabled Haughey to parachute borrowed money wherever he wanted, mostly into his own constituency. Moreover, under various administrations, the Irish welfare state was constructed, not as a purpose-built structure based on political ethics, but as a coral of philosophically unconnected bribes that went on and

on, both to the general electorate and to the public service unions. Finally, propelled by a ship's furnace fuelled by ludicrously cheap euros, the Irish State ran ashore on a Great Barrier Reef of ad hoc obligations.

Now, when the respite allowance was first introduced by Charlie McCreevy in 1998, it amounted to £200, or €250. The pre-budgetary figure had risen to €1,700: so the proposed cut of €370 still left a carer's holiday allowance of €1,330. One could certainly present an argument justifying that cut -- but doing so as a minister facing a lifelong, index-linked pension of, say, €120,000 is possibly just a little problematical.

Moreover, our so-called welfare state, because it was built on populist, crowd-pleasing stunts, is hopelessly open to abuse: remember the rather clever Bosnians, who a year ago were revealed to be receiving €90,000 a year in tax-free benefits? This calculation did not include the €1,700, carer-respite allowance, so we can revise the Bosnian tax-free income upward to €91,700.

A RATIONAL society with rational politics could certainly examine every aspect of the untaxed allowances that the welfare state disburses. But this is not such a society. We have a protected political elite that in extremis, makes concessions to the loud, the self-interested, the hysterical and the well-organised. Moreover, we've had as much calm, reasoned discussion on the issue of "respite-care" as we might find at a knife-fight in a fifth-form dorm.

But in all honesty, how can people remain measured and dispassionate, when they know that the politicians proposing these cuts, and then voting on them, will soon be sending out thousands of unwanted and utterly insincere Christmas cards to their infuriated constituents -- and all paid for by the taxpayer?

Do the denizens of Dail Eireann not hear the mounting sound of anger amongst the electorate at their ceaselessly self-serving capers?

History shows: popular rumbles, unheeded, can soon lead to populous tumbrels. Listen carefully: for these are very dangerous times indeed.

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