How our Mary could lead by example
ACOUPLE of weeks ago, Gene Kerrigan was suggesting various savings that might be made in these hard times. He was quite hopeful that President Mary McAleese, for example, could be persuaded to take a pay cut.
After all, she seems to be greatly enjoying her role, for which she receives €277,000 a year. She also seems like a very nice person. So in the circumstances, Kerrigan felt that she might do it for, say, €77,000.
As newspaper folk, we have come to expect these helpful suggestions of ours to be treated with lofty disdain by the great and the good. Yet in this case, one feels that there may indeed be hope that we may be about to get "a result".
Can it be entirely coincidental, that last week in Phoenix, Arizona, the same President McAleese was thinking out loud about the way we have been "consumed by consumerism"? About the need for us to put aside the culture of instant gratification?
The relevant part of her speech went something like this:
"I think that every one of us would have to say, with our hands on our hearts, that we were all consumed by that same element of consumerism...
"Somewhere along the line, we began to think that we weren't happy with deferred gratification."
She continued: "We had to have it now and in this moment, and I think that we have paid a very, very big price for that very radical shift. And now the balance presumably is going to swing the other way, and it will be no harm."
I think it is fair to say that if a serious-minded person such as President McAleese is speaking in this vein, she must be personally prepared for some of that deferred gratification, which, as she so rightly points out, will do her no harm. And 200 grand out of her salary of €277,000 a year may sound like an awful lot of deferred gratification, but then there's also that €317,000 a year in "allowances" for entertainment and the like.
So no-one will go hungry at the Aras. Even if the President of Ireland is struggling along on the 77 grand, because it is good for her soul, the President of Mozambique, or whoever comes calling, will still be treated to the finest sweetmeats, accompanied perhaps by a selection of savoury snacks and a guacamole dip.
After all, we can't be expecting others who don't necessarily share our values, to be deferring their gratification too. So the 310 grand a year can remain largely intact, for ceremonial purposes, but subject to review.
The President's personal commitment is a different matter, and one which could set a far more powerful example than merely cutting down on the finger food. There must now be a serious chance that she will actually defer that entirely unnecessary 200 grand of hers, because in many ways, she is not like the others.
She is not some bullshitter who sees no connection between what she says and what she does. Apart from being the President, she is also effectively the Catholic primate of all Ireland, and therefore not the sort of person who would be making pronouncements about the spiritual life of the nation, from which she would exclude herself for all practical purposes.
She is seeing the big picture here, but you have to assume that somewhere in that big picture she sees herself too, putting aside that superfluous 200 grand which is surely more than she could ever spend if she is sincere on the subject of deferred gratification... which ideally would amount to no gratification at all... or even a bit of old-fashioned mortification.
In Phoenix, Arizona, she saw that "we clearly have come from from quite unbalanced times, and they have not been able to secure for us the kind of peace of mind, peace of heart, contentment, we would have wished for. Now we're trying to find our way back to a more rooted and possibly more modest time."
Ah, what terrible, terrible bullshit this would be, coming from anyone else on her pay-grade. No other public representative with any instinct for survival, would be talking about the aftermath of the destruction of the world economy as "a more rooted and possibly more modest time".
But the President is not like the others, which may explain how she somehow avoided headlines such as 'McAleese Welcomes Great Depression' -- not an unfair or unbalanced representation of her speech, and one that would certainly be hurled at some TD mad enough to relieve himself of such otherworldly sentiments.
And as for that stuff about "peace of mind, peace of heart, and contentment", there are some who look back fondly on the peace of mind, peace of heart and contentment they felt when they had a regular income, as distinct from the peace of mind, peace of heart and contentment they will find in these more contemplative times, as they stand in line at the dole-office.
Only President McAleese could get away with it, because we know that she would not be saying these things just to make noise. She would not be looking forward to all the good things about having no money, secure in the knowledge that she will be immune from all the bad things.
And anyway, 77 grand a year is not exactly "no money". A lot of us could nearly live on that, we who think that deferred gratification is when we bet ante-post, or we don't collect until after the last race.
She can be our inspiration.