I live in Sandymount, a mixed south Dublin suburb which many outsiders would regard as prosperous. I have been one of its public representatives since 1974 when I was elected to Dublin City Council.
Over the Christmas and New Year many people have spoken to me. Some are angry at the long Dail recess, until January 27, at a time when the country faces a serious crisis. A lot of people -- small business owners, professionals and pensioners -- are worried, but all are frightened. They are fearful about having to let loyal staff go or about their own jobs. They are deeply concerned about the value of their pensions as blue-chip bank shares collapse and dividends are cancelled.
Frequent questions put to me are, "What is going on?", "What is the Government doing?", "Does it know what it's about?"
Dublin South East has four TDs, one from each of the main political parties: two Government deputies and two Opposition. The constituency, in the past, has elected people like Sean McEntee, John A Costello, Noel Browne, Garret FitzGerald and Michael McDowell, to name a few.
But today, these voters are seriously worried. They simply do not trust this Government. They have been used to government leadership, even if they did not always agree with it. Now, they tell me they are scared because they do not believe that Brian Cowen, Mary Coughlan and Brian Lenihan are up to the task. It is as simple as that. And what really worries them most is that the next general election is not due until 2012!
In all my time as a public representative, I have never witnessed nor experienced such a collapse of public confidence combined with so many private expressions of fear and despair.
These observations are neither party political nor personal. The people who have spoken to me are simply crying out for leadership. They know that there is a world-wide economic crisis, but they also realise that many of our problems are much worse than in other European countries. This is largely because of the bad political decisions made by Fianna Fail in government.
The people I speak about are not interested in the blame game. It is too serious for that now and, besides, many of them voted for this Government. This is about the future, the next 12 months and the next five years.
One thing is clear: the present Budget has become a work of fiction because it was cobbled together as a political stunt. The revenue projections for 2009 have been obliterated by the real end-of-year figures for 2008 and the actual revenue prospects for 2009.
We need a new Budget for 2009, one that provides a new Book of Estimates, and outlines new levels of reduced public expenditure which realistically we can afford based on this year's tax revenues. New tax measures are probably necessary, particularly the abolition of costly tax shelters such as the financing of private hospitals on public hospital land.
To put it starkly, the financial out-turn for 2008 is the worst set of fiscal figures in the history of this State. Confidence among ordinary people, not to mention economic analysts and financial markets, has been shattered. The Taoiseach, Tanaiste and Finance Minister, the trio who dominate this Government, must be open and honest with the Dail and with the people. We need clarity and leadership and it must be delivered in the Dail with our public representatives, who have a mandate from the people. The broad outline of what needs to be done should be spelled out and debated in Leinster House. The implementation of some of the measures can be negotiated, in detail, with the social partners where necessary.
But we also need new thinking and innovative ways of delivering public services. For example, why can't the surplus staff in the public service help out in the Department of Social and Family Affairs so that recently unemployed workers will not have to wait up to 12 weeks to get their Job Seekers Benefit, for which they have paid with their PRSI contributions?
Instead of introducing expensive redundancy packages for surplus managers in our health services, why can't they be transferred to our 800 post-primary schools to help with the administration and finance of those large organisations, so that qualified teachers and educational staff can stay in the classrooms and deal with the concerns of students?
The Department of Education has close to 50,000 primary pupils being taught in pre-fabs. Surely we can fast-track the planning and administrative procedures to get unemployed construction workers off the dole queues and on to building sites, paying tax and constructing decent buildings for our growing school population.
There are many more ideas and suggestions, some of which Eamon Gilmore, Labour Party leader, has already spelled out, which need to be fast-tracked and implemented with a new sense of urgency and creativity.
Our people want hope and they need confidence. They also need a sense of solidarity and security. That is why the banks and financial institutions, which have been rescued by the taxpayer, should be told by the Government that no one, but no one, is going to lose their home. Unemployed workers can retrain for new jobs, but not if they are made homeless.
Since last September we have had the 'stunt' Budget, the bank deposit guarantee scheme and the recapitalisation of some of our banks. So far, these measures have not produced confidence in the financial markets, among consumers and especially our citizens.
The reason is that people no longer trust or believe in this Government. If the Government isn't up to it, then it must ask the President to dissolve the Dail and have a general election.
Ruairi Quinn, TD, is Labour Party spokesperson on education and science