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Alison O'Connor: Avoiding tough choices is just prolonging agony

OF THE three major political speeches we heard in the past week, in two of them we were told that we the people are not responsible for the financial mess we now find ourselves in.

On Sunday night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in his state of the nation address told us: "Let me say this to you all: You are not responsible for the crisis."

The next day, Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, in his Budget speech, told us that public anger was acute because "the public was not responsible for putting us in this position".

Finance Minister Michael Noonan, interestingly, opted not, in his speech, to get into the area of the responsibility or lack of it in relation to the citizens of Ireland for the state they currently find themselves in.

Later in his speech, the Taoiseach, while making clear our stance on stronger rules on governing the euro added: "In fact, the Irish people are paying the price now for the absence of such rules in the past."

So added all together, Enda was telling us that we are not to even think about blaming ourselves and gosh, if only we'd had a few more rules imposed on us by the EU and the European Central Bank we wouldn't be in half the state we are now.

We do need kind words now, and a leader that shows he's emotionally in touch with the populace, and feeling our pain. However, this stuff about us being blameless and "if only there were more rules and we'd have adhered to them" is straight out of the political textbook from the chapter headed "pandering to the voters".

For so long, the Irish were like drunken sailors looking to buy a house and max out our credit cards in every port. We did have a government who were in charge of, and encouraged the reckless situation, but no one was holding a gun to our heads each time it came to voting Fianna Fail into office, particularly in the 2007 General Election.

None of this, of course, is new. But, as we come to the end of another year of economic turmoil and hardship, with yet more in prospect, we do need to keep ourselves and our politicians honest. We don't just want them telling us things that we want to hear.

While we may not say it out loud, the silent acknowledgement of our own role in the greatest spendathon ever in Irish history explains in some way to me why the Irish haven't taken more to the barricades, in the manner of their Greek counterparts. As a result, we've been taking our medicine.

For that reason, and others, we deserved more from this Budget. In fairness to the Coalition, it can't have been easy putting this one together, and this was the first time they've had to put a Budget together. But the disappointing thing about it all was the manner in which it reeked overall of a budgetary process where two coalition parties had exceptionally little wriggle room, but even within that, each was determined to make it the best they could for themselves party politically. Fine Gael certainly won this round.

Therefore, it ended up having very little vision or sense of "grand plan" about it, and the wrong people suffering too much.

I simply cannot understand how someone like me, (who does have work and is grateful for it) came through this Budget without having my child welfare cut -- I don't care that computers in government departments don't talk to each other. Brendan Howlin said in his speech that the sharp reality that this Government was facing was that the level of social welfare expenditure now in place could not be sustained from the funding base now available.

How true. However, the really difficult choices remained unmade, and will simply have to be made the next time, therefore drawing out our agony. That's when we need to remind our Government that, while we do indeed take our part of the blame for the mess we're in, the fault is theirs for not grasping the nettle.

Speaking of not doing the voters any real favours, his constituents in Dublin West are fully entitled to ask for a refund from deputy Patrick Nulty -- hardly a wet month in the Dail after being elected as a Labour TD -- he's already out of the party. Someone should tell him that after years of messing around we are only interested now in politics for grown ups.

It's been a horrible week for Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, not least that Nulty is a constituency colleague. Some of what she's gone through she has only herself to blame for (colleagues say she can be her own worst enemy, and she did far too much politicking before the Budget) but she was also dumped in it when it came to the the cutting of disability payments to young people.

Meanwhile, over in Europe, the car crash that has been EU politics, and the by-now farcical attempts to save the euro, make a non molly coddling approach from our politicians all the more pertinent. No matter how you look on it, or how much despair you feel at the mess the European top dogs are making of things, we are better off inside this particular tent. In there, they are working towards a new "fiscal compact" where those previously lax rules the Taoiseach mentioned in his Sunday night speech would be made much tougher regarding deficits and debt.

Of course, as night follows day, we are going to need another referendum arising out of all this, and hopefully we can manage not to make it too tortuous an affair.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore put it well when he said in the Dail on Thursday that if we find ourselves obliged to have another referendum then so be it, and let us get on with it. "To be alone in our current circumstances would be a very cold, lonely and penurious place to be."

That's called telling it as it is.

Irish Independent