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Ian O'Doherty: Ireland in 2011 -- where grannies freeze to death

'I believe we have a duty to protect the most vulnerable in our society," said Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin just before 3pm yesterday afternoon, rather heroically managing not to break into maniacal cackling given the fact this is now a country where vulnerable people cannot afford to heat their houses or feed their children adequately.

Perhaps the phrase "most vulnerable people" was meant to describe Ciaran Conlon, the government adviser who had a raise of €35,000 personally approved by Mr Howlin's very own Taoiseach? I'm sure he's feeling pretty vulnerable right now.

Indeed, when Enda Kenny appeared on television the other night to deliver his state of the nation address, he was so bland and stilted and awkward that he could have been an al-Qa'ida hostage reading a pre-prepared speech denouncing himself.

Indeed, given the prominence of the EU flag behind him, that analogy may not be so incorrect.

And so yesterday, the country once more readied to retreat behind the couch in fear as Mr Howlin lined up in front of the microphone.

Just how bad was it going to be?

There had been leaks in the papers yesterday, of course, but there's always the fear that they're either mischievous or simply wrong.

In the end, they proved to be pretty accurate -- depressingly so.

The list of cuts, chops, amputations continued uninterrupted and each one, even the strangely vague ones, gave the viewer an increasing sense of impending bloody doom.

Feeling chilly this year? After all, we are enduring increasingly colder winters and anyone who has ventured outside in the last few days will have experienced temperatures that would make a penguin long for a woolly jumper.

Well, if you're a pensioner or someone in receipt of the fuel allowance you better start investing in some thermal underpants because the Government cut six weeks from the fuel allowance period, dropping it from 32 weeks to 26.

Yup Brendan -- if that's what you call protecting the most vulnerable people in our society then I'd hate to see what you'd be capable of if you had a grudge against them.

After all, we are already in a situation where many Irish families say that they can only afford to heat their house every other day; even then it's a struggle.

Welcome to Ireland 2011 -- a country where a government policy wonk gets a raise, personally organised by the Taoiseach, of €35,000 while grannies freeze to death -- these aren't the spongers who claim social welfare or incapacity benefit when they are perfectly able; these aren't the ones who are a needless drain on our resources. These are people who have to listen to their children complaining how bloody cold they are. How emasculating must that be for the parents?

It will be interesting, also, to see the reaction to reduction in overseas development aid of just over €52m.

Overseas aid has always been a wasteful luxury -- it seldom offers serious help to the people it is meant for because it seldom reaches them.

Instead it creates a culture of dependency in the recipient countries and is, more often than not, simply used to further feather The Big Leader's nest of whatever country is involved and allows his wife to spend even more money on extravagant shopping trips to Paris while her fellow citizens starve.

We've been seeing this for years but the Government has been reluctant to be seen to do something because the last thing they wanted was to have every aid agency in the country (and worse, Bono) accusing them of being big old meanies.

But, frankly, I care far more about old aged pensioners freezing to death in this country than I do about someone thousands of miles away and I'm always amazed at how unpopular that position is, but it is still nice to see them finally adopt a position.

And then there was financial genius of Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald to admire.

Blissfully refusing to admit how much money the IRA cost our country's Exchequer, she lambasted the incumbent and previous governments -- while they continue to support cuts in the North -- prompting one contributor to come out with the line of the day: "Sinn Fein -- the Partitionist Party."

Watching the opposition politicians all read their carefully prepared speeches was a sad indicator of our political classes -- repetitive and pointless parroting of the obvious: the bankers, the developers, the nasty speculators.

Look guys, we know what caused the problems. We're broke, not stupid.

Now it's time to hear some practical solutions that aren't mad, such as Mary Lou's implication that we tax the hell out of the rich (she didn't say what her definition of 'rich' is either) -- thus crippling the social class that provides employment for everyone else.

Still, it could have been worse. We could have been forced to listen to Michael Noonan. Oh wait, I forgot. He's up later today.