Time for the minister to take responsibility
The proposed change in the rate of Universal Service Charge (USC) on medical card holders earning less than €60,000 – from 4pc to 7pc – is disturbing for several reasons, not least the Minister for Finance's attempt to portray this as a Fianna Fail measure with a 'sunset clause' which really has nothing to do with him.
Michael Noonan, who celebrates his 71st birthday next Wednesday, did not introduce this clause and obviously sees the controversy that has arisen as an unwelcome birthday present.
USC, we all accept, was introduced by the previous government. Despite his undoubted ability and the fact that he has helped rescue this country from one of the greatest calamities in the history of the State over the past three years, Mr Noonan must remember that he is Minister for Finance and, no matter who introduced this measure, responsibility for it now rests with him and it is within his remit to change it if he wishes.
Yesterday, he attempted to put the blame for this measure – which will affect 360,000 taxpayers – solely on FF, saying: "They're the people who planted the bomb and they want other people to change the timing mechanism on the bomb."
Over the past three years the Government has constantly reminded us of the failings of the previous regime, as if we could forget them. This mantra is now beginning to sound very tired.
Added to this, the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry seems curiously timed to reinforce this particular line of attack in the run-up to the next general election, should the Government run its full term. After Mr Noonan provided the public with the 'bomb' analogy, he went on to tell us that between now and when this measure is due to be introduced next January, there is a Budget, and all matters will be "considered very carefully", including where to get €106m – this would be left like a hole in the public finances if the rate for this cohort of people were to be left at 4pc.
We would have to conclude from what he and the Taoiseach said on the issue yesterday, that Mr Noonan will use the October Budget to do the right thing. In the meantime, he might heed FF spokesman on finance Michael McGrath, who has advised him to immediately allay the fears of those who face extra USC charges of up to €700 a year, rather than lashing out at the Irish Independent which highlighted this important issue for a large number of its readers.
Foreign students at bust schools deserve help
The closure of a third international language school in Dublin in as many weeks has been very damaging to the reputation of Irish education and the way we, as a country, do business.
What image does this portray in the various countries from where the students attending such colleges came? These are young people, eager to learn English, who come to Ireland paying large fees, up to €3,000 or more, who suddenly find that these schools shut up shop overnight leaving them high and dry, without their money or the tuition for which they and their families paid so dearly.
This is bad for the reputation of this country and it is high time that this area of education was properly regulated to prevent these closures happening with such unwelcome regularity.
If Irish students had a similar experience in another jurisdiction there would be calls from TDs and others with vested interests for something to be done about it.
But when it happens on our own doorsteps there seems to be a different attitude.
There has been an upsurge in the number of such teaching establishments in this country and while businesses can and do fail for very understandable reasons, it's time some sort of bonding or insurance arrangement was put in place so that students who come here can complete their courses or get their money back.
Obviously this is an important and lucrative area of the Irish economy and one in serious need of examination.