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Same old joke in Europe's most expensive nation - we just keep on paying

So, a man walks into a casino... It sounds like the start of a joke, but it's not even the tiniest bit funny that Sean Quinn, whose penchant for high-stakes gambling has left the rest of us picking up the tab for his €2.5bn game of Monopoly.

A 2pc levy has been announced on all insurance products to pay for the massive betting losses that Quinn racked up during his high-rolling businesses.

When an insurance company goes bust -- as Quinn has -- then the industry compensation fund kicks in to pay up -- it's the reason why you can claim against, say, an uninsured driver if he crashes into you.


The problem is that the entire fund amounts to €40m and Seanie and his family racked up debts so massive that there's still a €720m shortfall, after the fund is stripped. That means that you and I will now pay an extra 2pc on our home and car insurance bills to cover it.

Health insurance isn't affected but, hey, that's okay -- VHI, Aviva and yes, you've guessed it, Quinn -- all announced hefty increases in premiums this year anyway, up to 15pc in many cases. Add to that the eye-watering hikes in our gas and electricity bills -- an extra 22pc due just when winter hits -- and you get the clear message that this might be called a recession, but there's nothing recessive about the prices we're still paying for basics.

Our buddies at the IMF shake their heads in despair every time they visit us -- they simply can't understand how we still, despite everything, have the highest wages in Europe, the highest public sector salaries and as evidenced by last week's departure of golden boy civil servant Dermot McCarthy -- the most generous, gold- plated pensions going.

To provide the fat-cat pension that he and others at the top level of the civil service enjoy, an ordinary person would have to have a fund of €5.5m saved up by the age of 60. There are dozens like McCarthy getting this largesse funded by the same guys bailing out the Quinn Casino up there in Cavan -- us.

It's not just at the heady heights either. Irish people pay 20pc more for goods and services than the EU average -- just ask to see your local GP or dentist.

Our groceries cost more, as do are cars and other imports. In fact, the only figure going down is the employment rate.

Is there anything we can do? Well, our own leaders don't seem intent on making us pay less for anything, but when the IMF dropped by and landed their collective butts in the Department of Finance, they were here to stay and it is they who won't put up with it any longer. The Government has been told to sell off bloated State assets like Bord Gais and the ESB.

It has to cut public sector pay savagely -- although it seems to have taken the rather strange approach to hit workers from the bottom up.

Likewise, pensions, which have been decimated in the private sector, will have to be revisited, however unpalatable it may be for cosseted workers in Government departments.


A report last week from the CSO found that the gap between public and private pay is ever widening -- now almost €300 a week on average. This cannot continue.

The Government has choices -- none of which are pleasant, but it's still getting away with unpopular decisions due to the disgust at the previous Government which got us into this mess.

We have only seen the beginning of it and come the Budget in December, Michael Noonan will have more shocks in store. We battened down the hatches for Hurricane Katia this week -- she's only in the tuppeny ha'penny place compared to our finances.