Monday 20 January 2020

Bruton will never know how austerity feels

Former Taoiseach John Bruton
Former Taoiseach John Bruton

Colette Brown

John Bruton thinks the State is doomed to default on its welfare system. If it does, can we start with his €135,000-a-year pension?

In a speech that surfaced over the weekend, the former Fine Gael leader lamented the public's irrational hatred of bankers, conjuring up images of pitchfork-wielding peasants baying for bankers' blood.

"The populations of Europe are blaming austerity on bankers... almost like in the 17th century people blamed witches.

"There's a certain amount of the mysterious quality of banking and its occult nature and it is being blamed for things. And people are credulous, and they are inclined to believe this sort of stuff," he said.

Imagine the gall of those gormless bumpkins presuming to blame bankers for a banking collapse.

Next thing he'll be telling us those oafs also have the temerity to blame politicians and financial regulators too.

Warming to his theme, Mr Bruton also mused that current levels of welfare spending are "completely unaffordable" and, in the future, "will not be deliverable".

Regrettably, he didn't state how long more he thought our impecunious State would be able to continue to pay him his €135,000-per-annum pension.

Inexplicably, the credulous citizens Mr Bruton lambasted have reacted rather angrily to his characterisation, even though he has now resiled from his "loosely worded" witch analogy.

The thing is that Mr Burton has an unfortunate habit of making people's blood boil.

Earlier this year he raised the spectre of a bleak future of 10 more years of austerity and advised of the necessity for further fiscal consolidation.

Now, he could well be right.

But he seems to be entirely oblivious to the fact that he is the wrong person to be banging this drum.

The former Fine Gael leader can preach about austerity all he wants but he can only speak about it in the abstract. He will never experience its worst effects.

How could he, considering his pension payment alone - before his salary as IFSC President is taken into account - is four times the average industrial wage? Part of the problem is that it is difficult to discern what hat the former Fine Gael leader is wearing when he makes his pronouncements.

Is he speaking as a retired elder statesman, offering his sage advice on the state of the nation, or are his views informed by his role as cheerleader-in-chief for the financial services sector?

Last year he cautioned against the perils of over-regulation and warned that: "Regulation isn't a substitute for ethics, regulation isn't a substitute for morality, regulation isn't a substitute for trust."

Now, speaking as the head of the IFSC his comments make perfect sense.

But, as a prescription for a country that has sunk more than €60bn into bailing out our profligate banks, it's folly.

Maybe if the former Taoiseach spent more time berating the troika for foisting the entire cost of the bank bailout on to the shoulders of his fellow citizens, his advice would be received more warmly.

He has previously spoken about the need to forgive those who caused the crisis, but has been less vocal on the need for debt forgiveness.

As it stands, the cost of saving the banks comprises 30pc of our national debt and will cost the state €1.6bn in interest payments this year.

If that albatross were removed from the Government's neck, there would be no requirement to gouge €2bn from the economy in the Budget this year.

Being rich, or acting as a lobbyist, doesn't debar Mr Bruton from having an opinion or expressing it forcefully.

But likening members of the public to superstitious witch hunters, preaching a constant mantra of austerity and questioning ever-tightening regulation, means that his bon mots will remain unpopular.

Irish Independent

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