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Policies? 'No money for needy' is only clear one

So we learnt this weekend that, despite the fact Michael Noonan says we are overachieving on the EU/IMF programme, the next round of cuts is apparently going to be deeper, harder, faster. And the results of all this austerity? In June, €4bn fled from Irish banks, growth in the economy is going to be negative this year and not slightly positive as had been predicted, unemployment is going to keep rising, and in general everything is just going swimmingly.

And two snapshots of Ireland last week told us more about the effects all this relentless austerity is having on the country.

The Achieve ABA school for children with autism in Donaghmeade is to close because the Department of Education will not make up the funding shortfall of €100,000 that has developed there. The parents of the eight children who attend the school had been funding the schools themselves by pooling money they raised with the money they got from the State to educate their children at home. It was worth it to them.

Some of them will have doubted their children would ever communicate and now they do; they can read books, and engage with life. But the funding gap kept getting bigger and the parents couldn't do it anymore. But apparently the ABA school did not fit with Department of Education policy on children with autism, which is that they should be placed in mainstream schools where possible. But this is the same government that is persisting with the cutbacks to Special Needs Assistants, so there are unlikely to be SNAs to help the children from Donaghmeade go to school.

If you didn't know what was really going on you might think that policy seemed to be slightly confused. These parents were getting their children educated for cheaper than it would cost in a special needs school or on one of the State's pilot ABA schemes. Yet the State says they should ideally be in a mainstream school, even though the State is not willing to provide these kids with the support they need to go to a mainstream school. But, of course, like everything else these days, it's not really about policy. There is one common ideology across these conflicting policies. And that is that we apparently don't have the money for the most vulnerable anymore.

On the back of The Irish Times last week a company called PNI mortgages had an ad offering to set up German bank accounts for people. For Irish people that is. Forget your amateur hour going across the border to Barclays. If you want to be really safe, bank with the fatherland apparently. And clearly there is a demand for this kind of thing. From which we can only deduce one thing. Despite the alleged confidence-building that the Government tells us is the result of all this austerity, a lot of people with money don't believe in Ireland anymore. And you can understand why they would not believe. Because despite our Trojan work on austerity, all we keep hearing from everywhere -- from last week's retail figures to last week's Nama results to last week's property price figures from the CSO -- is that this place is screwed.

So austerity is encouraging the worst kind of barbarism in this State -- where we cannot educate children with autism in a manner that seems, according to their parents, to perform miracles. People with autism and their families have one of life's worst crosses to bear, and we apparently don't have the

money to help them out anymore. But austerity is not building any confidence in the country either. It is stopping people from spending, it is killing the value of the only asset most people and institutions in this country have -- property, and it is encouraging a further flight of capital from this country. In short, it is killing our economy and killing confidence in this country.

But we are told that austerity is the only way out. And so we bear it. We all accept that the demon deficit needs to be eliminated and we all accept that this country is bogged down in debt. But did you ever think that we have taken to austerity with the same misguided passion to which we took to largesse? Did you ever think that we could look back on these times the way we look back on five years ago? Do you ever think we will wonder, in years to come, what spell we were under when we agreed to slowly dismantle our society in the interests of economics? And do you ever wonder what social problems will come back to haunt us from this era?

This Government has now developed a peculiar mindset, which is deficit cutting no matter what. Sometimes it looks as if they are now purely, ideologically wedded to the pain principle, to the inherent good of cutting. This was evidenced in the vehemence with which they told us that none of the money saved on interest repayments recently could flow back into our pockets. It was merely an opportunity to cut more and faster. And when we were told with more elation last week that the State had saved another €1.1bn on Bank of Ireland, we were again warned that while we should be pleased about these savings and while we should congratulate the Government for this great act, this would make no difference to the austerity.

Eventually, the more we hear of things that will mean "substantial savings to the taxpayer", the less attention we will pay, because we know it will make no difference to us, the taxpayer. And you can't help but think that there's something wrong there. We are locked into a deal and an austerity plan right now that is based on the circumstances and the forecasts when the deal was made. You can be sure that if new issues were uncovered on the minus side of the equation we would be told straightaway that we need to pay more taxes and endure more cuts. But somehow, when the alteration is on the plus side, we are merely told it is business as usual.

Four in five respondents to the Sunday Independent/Quantum Research poll of 500 households last Sunday thought that the Government should use the savings from the interest rate reductions to reverse some cuts to hospitals and schools. When these were told about the new €1.1bn the Government "saved" us last week they presumably thought the same. In short, the vast majority of people in this country believe we should only be as brutal as we have to be. They are happy to stick with the programme, but Jesus if there is an opportunity for a bit of respite should we not take it? But instead we are locked into an ideology of cutting for cuts' sake.

A bit of occasional respite from austerity might actually give somewhat of a confidence boost in this country. It might even provide a little bit of stimulation to the economy if we didn't take as much from people as they were expecting. It might also give people some much deserved relief from the hardship. It might allow the Government to take it a bit easier on the most vulnerable.

And remember, we would still be sticking to the plan of getting the deficit wiped out when we said we would. We would just be taking advantage of any unexpected windfalls. While many economists, like Philip Lane and Colm McCarthy, will tell us that we should cut as hard and as fast as possible and get the deficit down, and while they are probably right, in purely economic terms, there is a reason why economists don't run the country, and that is because an economy is made up of a huge unpredictable mass called people, people who don't always do what the graph tells them to do, people who have messy things like emotions and limits to their tolerance.

Of course, there is weird backdrop to all this that people also find incomprehensible. How can it be that every single job in the public sector and the current pay levels in all those jobs have been ring-fenced? It seems strange to people that we cannot ring-fence social welfare, which will be hit hard in the next budget, or education, which is probably the single most critical issue in securing the future of the country, or healthcare and services for the most vulnerable people in our society, but we can ring-fence every single job in every government department and agency. Indeed, people find it hard to understand either how we can be cutting government services while we're not cutting any jobs in the organisations that provide these services, unless, of course, someone wants to give up their job.

So no matter what upturn occurs, no matter what windfalls the State gets, it won't make a blind bit of difference to the sacrifices everyone has to make, and if things get even worse, it won't apparently make a blind bit of difference to those who work for the Government. Perhaps this explains why so many of them don't see any reason to pass on any windfalls to the taxpayer. Or to children with autism.

Sunday Independent