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It felt like race to the bottom with distinct backside theme

PUBLIC service workers were neither "sacred cows" nor "work-shy", Education Minister Ruairi Quinn crossly told Ivan Yates on Newstalk yesterday morning, and so it was disgraceful that media outlets such as 'The Sunday Independent' were "blackening the name" of these tireless toilers on the nation's behalf.

Ivan's co-host, Chris Donoghue, then produced figures detailing how many public sector employees earned over €100,000 a year. Obviously too many in Chris's view because he then declared that all the lower-paid public servants were merely "the long grass in which the high earners are hiding".

It was a bit too early in the day to be indulging in such metaphorical flourishes and Ivan promptly brought matters back to earth by chatting about some research findings he'd come across which showed that if you spent too much time sitting down you developed a "big bottom".

So was there a high proportion of big bottoms among work-shy public sector workers? Ivan didn't say.

Bottoms and other lower appendages also featured in irate calls to the show about Brendan Howlin's measures. "Reform my arse!" declared one man, while another asserted that timid government backbenchers "have no balls".

But that, apparently, was only to be expected when, in the view of another caller, "the Stickies are running the show".

John Murray began his Radio One show by playing a clip of Italian welfare minister Elsa Fornero sobbing about cuts to pensions and then commenting "I wonder will we get the same from Michael Noonan" -- thereby both recycling an item that Pat Kenny had used the previous day and repeating a gag I'd made about Joan Burton in yesterday's column.

Speaking on the Kenny show an hour later, socialist TD Joe Higgins was just as protective as Ruairi Quinn about public sector workers, informing the presenter that it was only the 'Sunday Indo' and other "right-wing ideologues" who were besmirching the reputation of these saintly servants of the state. The left-wing ideologue also got irate with financial journalist Jill Kirby who, continuing the morning's backside theme, argued that automatic state handouts to people just out of school or college were wrong because the young "shouldn't be incentivised to sit on their asses". Joe deemed this a great insult.

On RTE's 'News at One', political reporter Brian Dowling repeated his visionary skills of the previous day by telling Sean O'Rourke exactly what would be in that afternoon's budget speech. Well, maybe not exactly -- the omniscient journalist conceding at one point that "I'm not too sure of the details here". But, dammit, he turned out to be just as accurate as he'd been the day before. For the sake of democracy, I trust that leaking wasn't involved.

Sean then interviewed airport police officer Paul, who's the father of 11 young children. How much would he lose through the child benefit cuts? "An awful lot," Paul replied, leaving Sean (courtesy of an 'Evening Herald' story) to come up with a figure of €140 a month. Sean then wondered if Paul mightn't be better off giving up work altogether, to which an affronted Paul replied that such a course of action wouldn't set "a good example" for his children. All very interesting, though Sean somehow managed to refrain from asking him the most interesting question of all, which was: Paul, do you mind telling me what on earth led you in this day and age to have 11 children?

Back on Newstalk, Fergus Finlay of Barnardo's was telling Jonathan Healy of his disappointment at the child benefit cuts. As a lifelong member of the Labour Party, Fergus was saying this more in sorrow than in anger, "but I'm not here as a Labour man" -- an assertion he then contradicted by speaking of "the steps we are taking to try and dig ourselves out of a hole".

Over on RTE1 just before Michael Noonan's speech, Fine Gael minister Leo Varadkar told Bryan Dobson what he hoped for from the Budget, as if he were just an ordinary Joe and had no prior knowledge of what the Finance Minister might say. All very strange.

All too familiar, though, were the views of socialist TD Clare Daly, who was more than happy to indict the minister's proposals before she even heard them. "They're going to hit those at the bottom," she fumed to Bryan. "There are loads of choices but they prefer to slash and burn." As the man said, I wish I knew as much about anything as Clare and her colleagues know about everything.

Then came the Noonan speech. Michael has always given great value when ridiculing hapless finance ministers on Budget Day, but he was the hapless one yesterday, reduced to droning out turgid diktats that would provide derisive verbal fodder for others.

Indeed, some of them couldn't wait their official turn -- Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett being forced to chide chippy socialist Richard Boyd Barrett for his noisy heckling, pointing out to him that he was scheduled to reply later to the minister's speech. This Richard duly got to do more than two hours later, but by then only the most dogged or daft of Dail watchers would have stayed put to savour his rhetoric.

Irish Independent Supplement