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Let's tackle our ludicrously high cost of living


Taoiseach Enda Kenny,TD

Taoiseach Enda Kenny,TD

Taoiseach Enda Kenny,TD

* The recent start of a debate about tax cuts is so depressing, as it shows that, despite the complete implosion of the Irish economy and the failure of its systems of governance, no lessons have been learned.

The Taoiseach hints at tax cuts, as is the wont of an old-style politician enticing people with their own money. Then the employers' lobby group IBEC – or Fine Gael at work – repeats the mantra that Irish labour costs are too high, which, translated, means too much of its members' profits are being used to pay wages , so of course less pay must be the answer, and 'income taxes are out of line and are a disincentive to work, consumption and job creation'. Both miss the point.

If we had learned anything from the last five years, the question these people should be asking is: why are Irish living costs so high? And why is it that despite a high tax take, the Irish State is incapable of providing an equivalent level of service?

Also, a large elephant in the room is: why shouldn't more of the profits of a business be returned to the workers who actually created it, instead of senior staff? It is a remarkable fact that most Irish companies have maintained their profit levels during this crisis, at the expense of letting staff go and reducing other costs – but the percentile of profit that goes to management has remained steady. So much for 'we're all in this together'.

Are tax cuts going to do anything to reduce the cost of childcare, travel, utility bills, or mortgages? Would tax cuts mean the banks facing up to the reality that the taxpayer has already paid to write off massive lending, which the banks need to continue to pass onto customers? Of course not, because in a country run with Ireland's economic model, tax cuts are swallowed up by higher private-sector costs for services, which are required because the public sector is incapable of filling that service requirement gap.

If we want the sort of top-quality, functioning and cost-effective public services that we claim to want, then we have to pay for them. The other side of that coin is to address the flaws in the public sector that prevent it providing the services people's taxes have paid for.




* One hundred years ago, the imperial countries of Europe, the crowned heads of many of which were related, went to war. Seventy-five years ago, the same countries, many with totalitarian dictators as their heads, were laying waste to Europe in another devastating war. Twenty-five years ago, one of the totalitarian regimes which survived the war collapsed.

Between the end of World War II and today, nearly 30 European countries, with democratically elected governments, have signed treaties to cooperate in matters of mutual interest in what is now the EU.

Like all human institutions there are conflicts of interest, but the EU of the present day is a far better place for ordinary citizens than the situations in the past.

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Ireland has benefited hugely on a net economic basis from its membership of the EU. Our present problems were caused by the decisions of our own most powerful citizens during the boom.

Yet we have Mr Fullam (Letters, February 13) comparing present-day conditions to the "soup kitchens during the Famine" and blaming the EU for homelessness in Dublin.

On the same letters page, Simon O'Connor accuses what he calls Eurocrats of "wanting to ram countries together".

There are many things to criticise in the EU, but the devastations of the past have been replaced by relative prosperity and democratic rule.




* Valentine's Day brings a joke from Groucho Marx to mind. . . "Send her a dozen red roses, and write 'I love you' on the bill."




* Belgium's rushing through – and likely passing – of a child euthanasia law beggars belief.

If children haven't got the legal capacity to so much as agree to buy digital money in video games, how on Earth can they have the capacity to consent to their own deaths?




* Ireland has a long history of strength, courage and stamina. The international media continually applaud our government for these character traits – and anyone applying for Disability Allowance must have them too, as the application form is a wolf in granny's clothing.

In December 2012, I was sick for a year with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). My doctor predicted I would be sick for at least another year and my illness was severe enough to render me unfit to work. My GP detailed my limitations, all I was now unable to do, the fact that I was living within the confines of my home, and that a visitor left me recovering for days. I was and am a limited battery.

The completed form was placed in the post in December 2012 along with requested copies of bank statements and my husband's wage slips. In February 2013 I received a letter stating I did not fall into the criteria for eligibility. According to the department's medics I would not be sick for another year and my illness did not restrict me from working. Which was ironic, as my Illness Benefit payment was proof of my inability to work. The end of the form acknowledged my right to appeal and that is exactly what I did.

In June 2013 I received a second letter, telling me again I did not qualify. By now I was dipping beyond my limited energy store and couldn't understand why I was being refused. Contacting my local TD I reiterated my anger and confusion and we both requested an oral hearing.

Finally, on October 31, 2013, I sat in front of an appeals officer and shared every detail of my illness and listened to my husband say "she is a different person to the person I married".

Within six weeks a letter arrived advising the ruling had been overturned. A few weeks ago I received my first payment, a weekly payment to the value of €125.30.

I don't understand why my first application was refused when it presented the same information I presented during my oral hearing. However, I was lucky: there are patients who miss out on their entitlement to appeal because they are waiting longer than 21 days for consultants' letters, or because they simply don't have the health to fight.

We really do live in a country that demands strength, courage and stamina from its citizens.




* I, and many other historians, received correspondence today indicating that the 2015 Programme of Special and Commemorative Stamps will not include a postage stamp dedicated to the 180,000 Irish-born men and women who participated in the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865.

As America continues to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this iconic conflict, how disappointing it is that Ireland still awaits any initiative by its government to formally honour the sacrifice these thousands of Irish people, most of them Famine refugees, were willing to pay. It appears that even the dedication of a small piece of sticky paper has been deemed unworthy.

How fitting it would have been if Irish letters to America carried recognition of the common bond both countries had in that struggle.



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