Editorial: President Higgins makes a timely call
President Michael D Higgins has said it is time for parliaments, elected by the people, to assert themselves more in defending their citizens from austerity. Cynics and naysayers may dismiss his call at the Council of Europe as empty rhetoric.
But any honest person who has experienced the suffering of ordinary citizens across the developed world over the past seven years will know better. The President argues that parliaments matter, that ordinary people fought for centuries to get the right to vote, and that power cannot just be "leeched away" from the people's democratic forum to faceless and unaccountable bodies.
In a stirring address to elected parliamentarians from 47 European countries gathered in Strasbourg, the President said it was time all democratically-elected parliamentarians used their political skills and experience to find pathways back into the national and international economic debate. He argued that elected parliamentarians meet the people every day and know how they have paid for dysfunctional economics and finance "in the hard currency of their daily existence".
The President was not engaging in pollyannaism when he issued this clarion call. He acknowledged that the realities of the current fiscal situation must be taken on board, and his message did not underestimate how difficult it would be for elected parliamentarians to win back lost ground. He also urged bodies like the Council of Europe to play their part at a supranational level in this effort.
In fact, Mr Higgins added his voice to that of many realists who argue that economic outcomes are best measured in indices of people's welfare - rather than pure market measures. The realism of this argument is that when people are prosperous they make a better contribution to the economy as both producer and consumer.
The President's words are a timely challenge to all governments across Europe to reflect on the lessons of recession and how it can be avoided in future. Ordinary people must have a role in this reflection, because if they are excluded they will not buy into emerging remedies.
There are various ways of doing that. But one good way is via the parliamentarians the people choose.
A welcome reversal for VHI customers
The news that VHI premiums are coming down this year by 3pc for some, and will not increase for the rest of those customers clinging to expensive private health insurance with the VHI, will come as a welcome relief.
The rising cost of health insurance has been relentless, with annual increases which sometimes ran into double figures driving hundreds of thousands of customers into the tender mercy of public health waiting lists.
While there may be an ideological debate about private versus public health care, that matters little to people who are sick and in need of treatment and cannot afford to go on lengthy waiting lists. Many traditional customers also stuck with the VHI, despite the fact that nobody can remember when its prices last actually fell.
There is little doubt that competition on the health insurance market has smartened up everybody and the VHI, as the traditional player, appears to be getting its act together at last. It is now planning to move into other areas of insurance, such as life insurance, etc, once it gets Central Bank approval, which may also be a benefit to consumers.