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Gene Kerrigan: Let's show them what 'together' means

In these freaky times, we could do worse than heed the words of Brian Cowen. The Taoiseach recently told the Dail: "We really are all in this together." I know he's an awful eejit, I know his record is dreadful -- but maybe there's something to be gained from accepting that we "really are all in this together".

Look around. We now accept as normal things that once we would have denounced as outrageous. Last Wednesday, for example, our EU "partners" borrowed €5bn on our behalf. At an interest rate of 2.59 per cent. And next Tuesday, they will pass the money to our Mr Lenihan. And they'll charge us interest at 5.515 per cent.

Our "partners" will make a profit of almost 3 per cent on the €5bn (and all the other billions they'll borrow to lend to us). In fact, they'll make more from the deal than the moneylenders from whom the €5bn is coming. This is called a "bailout". Gee, thanks, "partners". Every hard-working citizen paying income tax, every unemployed citizen paying VAT on a pair of socks or a sliced pan, will pay for this "bailout" right into the next generation and beyond.

The A&E trolley crisis that was allegedly solved four years ago reached record levels last week. And this happened just as the VHI hit older people with a 45 per cent price increase. Meanwhile, Mary Harney, after six years as Minister for Health, is about to clear her desk. She'll eventually bugger off with an obscenely inappropriate pension.

The boss of the HSE, incidentally, is on €415,000. The last-known wage of the boss of the VHI was €412,000. (The gent concerned made his name working for Fyffes, the banana people.)

More politicians bailed out last week, opting to take their bloated pensions and put their feet up (I could say something about rats and sinking ships, but that might be hurtful, so I won't).

Twenty-two judges turned their noses up at the request that they pay a voluntary donation in lieu of the income levy the rest of us pay -- and from which they are allegedly exempt for constitutional reasons.

(Fuck your income levy, I've a constitutional difficulty outside).

Senators who for years have seemed asleep, if not actually dead, have suddenly found their voices and their energy. They rage against proposals that the pointless, idle and expensive Seanad should be closed down. Word comes across the Atlantic of the enormous amounts of money flowing through the financial accounts of David Drumm and his good wife. (Dave, you may recall, shares with Seanie Fitz the glory for making Anglo Irish what it is.)

A USA hearing was told that, before he left for foreign shores, Dave got a wage cheque of €92,000 from Anglo (that wasn't annual pay, that's what he got for a month). To make sure he felt appreciated, Dave got a bonus of €372,000. Talent like Dave's doesn't come cheap.

Budget decisions have cut deep into the lives of those on medium and low wages and those on social welfare. When people paid income and consumer taxes, over decades, they were with every transaction effectively putting aside money to be claimed in social welfare when they needed it. Now they're on the dole, and social welfare is deemed a privilege, not a paid-for right, and is slashed.

The effects of welfare and income cuts on the lives of those unemployed or on low or medium wages is devastating. Hundreds of thousands see their options evaporate, their children's prospects dimmed.

To add to the gaiety, Enda Kenny came out of hiding to deny he was in hiding. Our President, God bless her, told us to stay alert for "green shoots of new beginnings". And no week would be complete without Brian Lenihan telling us we're "on the road to economic recovery".

In such a bizarre little nation, if we are to take Brian Cowen at his word, that we "really are all in this together" -- we'll need to act accordingly. What would that look like?

In such a country, equality of opportunity and equality of sacrifice would be indispensable. Right now, there are people who are so well off that they barely notice the economy has collapsed. They've read about it in the newspapers.

Others have had their belts tightened so much they can hardly breathe.

The minimum wage has been cut -- although this will have zero effect on the economy, it makes some people feel good that the low-paid are making a "contribution". Well, if we're all really in this together, let's have a maximum wage. Some would say €150,000 a year, others €100,000. I'd settle for €50,000, but I'm easy.

Frankly, I'm tired of listening to homilies from a President on around €300,000 a year. Take the maximum wage, Ma'am. (And her running expenses should be cut to €20,000, not €300,000.) I'm tired of RTE cheerleaders on huge wages lecturing us on the need for austerity.

It's sickening that ministers and TDs cutting our economic throats sacrificed a mere 20 per cent or so from their swollen wages. Maximum wage, folks. Politicians would get lower (but still reasonable) pensions -- but only when they reach pension age. The "consultants" and the "professionals", choking the country with their extortionate fees -- hit them all with a maximum income law, highly regulated.

Objections? There'd be lots. But our comfortable classes have had no problem with "socialising" the losses. Let's "socialise" the profits. Wealth taxes on bubble windfalls. What about the flight of talent? You mean the likes of Dave, and all those wonderful ministers and "consultants"? Let 'em fly. Give their jobs to graduates -- people with a stake in the future of this country.

Stop buggering around with the white-collar criminals. The law is too weak (and our leaders too deferential). Strengthen the law, make it simpler.

Name the 22 freeloading judges. Then hit them with the levy, anyway. A constitutional crisis over greedy, elitist judges? Bring it on.

Create profiteering laws; laws that would financially devastate such behaviour. Parasites profiteering through such dodges as "upward only" rent reviews would be taxed 110 per cent on such bloodsucking. No Revenue settlements with tax evaders -- minimum sentences of 10 years.

Imagination and ruthlessness would be needed to tackle professionals and others who would fight fiercely to hold on to their privileges. But if the State is to survive, it needs to get tough with the powerful.

In return for higher taxes, the State would guarantee equality of opportunity in education, and universal health care. Health services would be a utility, not a business.

Get tough with our EU "partners". (Go on, Brian -- it's easy -- just imagine they're pensioners lying for three days on a trolley in A&E, and tell them you have to make "tough decisions".) Perhaps wonder aloud if we should put every slight change in EU rules to a referendum.

Then, we might be able to use the phrase, "we really are all in this together". I can see how minor moves towards greater equality would upset some people. If equality isn't on, let's stop pretending we're all in this together. They would prefer a free-for-all, ruthless fight over who pays for the crisis? Or perhaps they think the suckers will stay passive forever?

Sunday Independent