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Careful spending is in at the áras -- there's something about Mary I like

At last, a leader who gets it. President Mary McAleese says that she'll cut her household allowance by 12.5pc, to save public money in the midst of our country's economic crisis.

Hurray! Here's someone in authority helping to balance the nation's books, not by telling me that I should be taking pain, but by tightening her own belt.

The President was also one of the first public figures to announce that she would take a voluntary 10pc pay cut. She says she'll accept another one, if need be.

Mrs McAleese talked about her attempts to economise on a special 25th anniversary edition of RTE's Morning Ireland programme.

Because of the President's office as head of state, it might have been awkward under the Constitution for the Government to cut her pay and expenses had she dug her heels in.

Mrs McAleese didn't wait to be asked. She's showing true public spirit by making it clear that she doesn't expect ordinary people to suffer while remaining immune herself.

As she explained, under the Constitution her allowances can't be reduced. "But there's nothing to stop me from not spending them," she added cheerfully.

With that in mind, she's making the kind of real-life changes I can understand. Turning off the lights whenever possible. Not sending zillions of Christmas cards from Aras on Uachtarain this year, but sending emails instead to save on the stamps.

Comfort

"It's nip and tuck everywhere," she said.

Indeed it is. Everyone I know has to make do with less money coming in. I find it's the small, irritating cuts that put me in a bad mood for days. (No fancy coffees? No new clothes? No meals out?) Not nearly as horrible as being unable to pay the rent, but the sort of thing that grinds you down.

What a comfort to hear a leader talk about sharing the pinch.

Not because it's been forced upon her by a "take it or leave it" employer, but out of choice. Because she wants to show solidarity with the rest of us.

Mr s McAleese talked about so many people who've taken a knock: young people coming out of college with no job to go to, people who have lost good jobs, businesses struggling to keep the lights on, people who can't pay their kids' school fees, people worried that their house will be repossessed. "I've met them all," she said.

What this says to me is this: our President gets it. She knows what we're going through. She cares. She sees herself as one of us.

What a shame other public figures whose pay and perks are off-limits thanks to the Constitution haven't shown the same "we're all in this together" attitude. Yes, I am talking about most of our judges.

By now, I'm used to the dreary spectacle of privileged people, when asked if they should pay higher tax or forego perks, whinging that any such "adjustments" wouldn't save the country from doom.

It doesn't occur to them that we aren't asking them to save us. We'd just like to see them do their bit.

Maybe I appreciate our President's gestures all the more because they stand out.

I've heard the Taoiseach and Government ministers drop hints about cutting social welfare payments while they cling to incredible luxuries such as their State cars and the Government jet.

They don't understand that we want to see them trim their own fat first, before they slice into our muscle.

Justified

Mary McAleese seems to have more cop-on. She said that at the first sign of difficulty, she cracked down on her foreign trips.

She wanted to make sure that all travel could be justified, and that she got good value for money.

No nipping over to race meetings on our tab, then.

None of this changes my own money woes. But it cheers me up somehow.

For once, I'm absolutely sure that a top job is filled by the right person.


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