Monday 17 December 2018

Legacy of mean, vicious cuts and a failed society

Government has ripped the heart and soul out of our country and wonders why people are in revolt

Winter of discontent: A man protests at the gates of Leinster House during the announcement of the 2015 Budget. Now that the water charges debacle seems to be at an end, the Government is keen to remind us how great their Budget was. Photo: Reuters.
Winter of discontent: A man protests at the gates of Leinster House during the announcement of the 2015 Budget. Now that the water charges debacle seems to be at an end, the Government is keen to remind us how great their Budget was. Photo: Reuters.

Daniel McConnell

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has often said it will be for the people to adjudicate on the performance of his Government at the time of the next election.

Now that the water charges debacle appears to be at an end, Government ministers are keen to remind us of the wonderfulness of their Budget, which was overshadowed by the water crisis.

They are keen to remind us that the age of austerity is over, and that we can begin to be hopeful of a better future.

Perhaps it is because the economy has stabilised somewhat, that we can reflect on the complete impact that seven years of cuts has had not just on the economy, but on the country as a whole.

The outcome is a shameful one. This Government and the shambolic Fianna Fail/Green Coalition it replaced simply ripped out the heart and soul of Ireland in order to plug the gaping hole in the public finances, and to exit the demanding Troika bailout.

It has often been noted that we live in a two-tier society. On the evidence of the last few years, we certainly live in a country where there are two distinct realities at play. There is the reality in Leinster House, and the reality for the rest of us.

The Troika, who were back in town last week, have welcomed the progress made, but their analysis is a shallow, one-dimensional examination of numbers, not of people.

A more rounded analysis of the Government's legacy of mean and vicious cuts is far less favourable.

A true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable, and one can only conclude that we have failed utterly in that regard.

In almost every category in every sector, the penal cuts enforced by Government have significantly reduced the quality of life of its citizens, and often for very little in return.

Whether it is home-help hours, access to respite care, abandoning the arts, neglecting and further isolating rural Ireland, hammering of self-employed small business owners, all of these people have paid the heaviest price in order to save the country.

The Elderly

Since Brian Lenihan had to abandon his attempt to remove the universal entitlement to a medical card for those over 70, the elderly across Ireland have lived in fear.

Because of pressure on the system from cuts, the 2009 Fair Deal scheme to give financial support to people needing long-term nursing-home care through the HSE is now crumbling.

Critics say the waiting lists are now out of control. Some vulnerable elderly are waiting for more than 15 weeks for funding approval because €35m was taken out of the €998m scheme in the 2014 Budget.

About €23m of the money was re-directed to home care and community services. One in four of those waiting for a nursing-home space is being kept in hospital beds while waiting for funding approval.

The Sick

So devastating have the cuts to the health service been that those in need of treatment are waiting longer to enter hospitals which are less safe than they used to be, given the pressure on services.

Many hospitals are running at or above capacity, and it was only in September that, Liam Duffy, the CEO of Beaumont Hospital, was forced to concede that his institution was unsafe.

Duffy sent a letter to staff on August 28 expressing concerns about overcrowding and blasted the conditions of the Dublin facility, saying "in the interest of all patients" the hospital must "regain stability as a matter of urgency".

Children

Children in Ireland have suffered most in the recession and continue to bear the consequences, despite child poverty falling in almost half of European countries since the start of the economic crash, according to a recent Unicef report.

The Unicef report finds Ireland has been among the worst affected countries since the recession began, and has continued to perform badly.

Child poverty, defined as children living in households where income is below the poverty line, rose in Ireland from 18pc in 2008 to 28.6pc in 2012.

Ireland was ranked 37th of 41 EU and OECD countries analysed, with only Croatia, Latvia, Greece and Iceland faring worse.

Against a backdrop of cuts to special-needs supports and falling capitation funding, many schools are increasingly reliant on fund-raising to plug key gaps in the school budget and - in extreme cases - basic teaching posts.

The disabled

Since the start of the recession, welfare payments to carers, widowers, people with disabilities and the blind have all been cut in some of the meanest measures of all.

In Opposition, Fine Gael insisted that it was "absolutely opposed" to cutting payments to the most vulnerable, but then oversaw further brutal cuts to such people since taking office in 2011.

The Arts

One of the areas in which the Government has been most criticised has been its neglect of the arts, which was typified by the McNulty Seanad scandal that engulfed the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Standstill allocations to the Arts Council, which has already been through years of cuts, shows to many within the sector that this Government places no value on the role or status of the arts.

The raising of the tax-free income limit for creative artists is of benefit to only a few - and has the look of a public relations attempt to camouflage the failure to restore some of the cuts of recent years.

Both the National Museum and National Library are struggling to survive in dire circumstances, brought about by a detrimental 40pc cut in the Exchequer subsidy since 2008.

As a result, the museum is faced with the options of closures and introduction of admission charges - neither chimes with the commemoration of a seminal event in our history. The National Library has warned of similar cuts in services.

The Government has been accused of a "reckless dereliction of our heritage" which critics say amounts to a form of "cultural vandalism, a grave dishonour to those they plan to commemorate".

The Self-Employed

Ireland has a dreadful record of supporting the self-employed: they pay higher tax rates and are entitled to little or no social welfare when they go bust.

Often regarded as the black sheep of the economy by the Department of Finance rather than the "lifeblood of the economy", the self-employed have been hammered from all sides since the beginning of the recession with little or no action from Government.

When you consider that small businesses employ more than 70pc of all workers, the Government's neglect of the self-employed has been shameful.

Sunday Independent

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