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Finance twins face the facts

DISCUSSING drug-addled, science fiction genius Philip K Dick on an intriguing instalment of Great Lives on BBC Radio 4, academic Roger Luckhurst said: "He's one of the first people to see through the shiny consumerist world to the rotting chaos behind it."

Ah, if only Irish politicians had had Dick's insight. After a glittering era of shiny consumerism the Irish people are now experiencing the rotting chaos, and on Sunday Enda Kenny kindly told us it wasn't our fault.

The next day Liveline callers expressed their dissatisfaction with Austerity Enda's big speech. "It looked like an ego trip to me," sniffed a man called Dennis.

"You can't pull hairs from a frog," said a lady called Chris of the anticipated Budget cuts (and not of a literal attempt to pull hair from a frog), before wondering if the Government wanted us "to go back eating grass again".

There were many more responses from ordinary people through the week, on Liveline and elsewhere, as Ministers Howlin and Noonan frog-plucked their way through a Budget that disproportionately targeted the poor and disabled.

The Fabulous Finance Twins appeared together on Wednesday's Today with Pat Kenny to justify their budgetary measures to members of the general public. They were like the protagonists in a particularly boring buddy-movie.

Noonan, with his flat whispery voice and bald head (you can hear it over the radio), played the bad cop. When a man complained about paying household tax on top of significant management charges for his apartment, Noonan said: "You can't have other taxpayers coming in and subsidising you for arrangements you freely entered into yourself."

Howlin, with his more projected voice and hairier head, was also the bad cop. Although, after a man called Stephen Reardon became emotionally eloquent about the plight of his disabled sister, the Labour Minister did get to deliver a bit of good news. "All our lives myself and my family have fought to give my sister an independent life," said Reardon, his voice breaking. "You have prevented my sister from going on to a third-level education."


"We're going to ensure that nobody in the disability category loses money," Howlin eventually responded. It was the coalition's first big U-turn.

The best thing about this broadcast, however, was that it forced well-paid public servants to publicly hear their abstract mathematical decisions become stark personal tragedies. One single parent insisted that the Ministers get out pen and paper to add up the financial realities of her day-to-day existence (they did so -- pen-scratching could be heard over the airwaves).

"I have no more to give you," said another lady. "You have pushed me now into fuel poverty and arrears on my mortgage."

It's easy to paint the injustices of this Budget purely in terms of the overpaid shafting the poor. However, Olivia O'Leary in her excellent Drivetime column focused on the people in between. She pointed out that it was the middle class, and not much-maligned pyjama-girls, who were actually the biggest beneficiaries of the welfare system, and that targeting the poor for cuts was morally wrong.

"For years and years," she said, "political parties have bought middle-class votes with State money."

She listed the many universal payments and perks, from child-benefit to university fees, which disproportionately aid those in the middle, and concluded that "the bourgeoisie . . . will sleep safe in their beds, tucked in by a benevolent State, knowing that whoever suffers, for the moment it won't be them."

It was far from such self-entitlement we were raised. Unwritten, a fascinating programme from 1974, was uploaded this week on the RTE website. It recalled how back in the poverty-stricken 1930s, the Irish State established the Irish Folklore Commission. This far-sighted project resulted in Ireland having one of the best folklore collections in the world (it's currently held in UCD).

At the time, Seamus O Duilearga, who initiated the project, pitched it to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera with the words: "I think it's time something was done to record the old traditions of a silent people."

Of course, the Irish people aren't particularly silent anymore, as anyone with a radio will know, and anyone with a smidgeon of power must constantly lament.