Tuesday 12 December 2017

Budget shows 'heavy lifting' may not be over

ANYBODY WOULD be forgiven for thinking that we have all been transported to a Celtic Tiger era building site with all this talk of ' heavy lifting' that has been going around since Budget 2013 was announced last week - and a more disingenuous use of the irksome cliché has never before been heard.

It was an 'unpalatable budget' as Taoiseach Enda Kenny freely admitted but, thank God, 85 per cent of the heavy lifting is now done and things will get better from here on. The same mantra is being trotted out at every available opportunity by all the Government TDs and ministers.

Now, as anyone who ever worked on a building site will know, when the heavy lifting is done it usually means you don't have to carry the same damn load again. No such luck here through. What Enda really means is that 85 per cent of the expected burden of cuts and tax hikes has been loaded onto the backs of the ordinary Irish citizens who are saddled with the country's debts.

That load won't get any lighter - we'll continue to carry it for the foreseeable future. The only change planned by the Government is to add the remaining 15 percent - assuming the donkey's legs don't give out in the meantime.

This budget was always going to be difficult and it may be that, all things considered - the need to attract foreign investment, the limitations of the Croke Park agreement and so on - there was nothing better that could be done as far as imposing cuts was concerned. That at least is what the Government would like us to believe, but it's clear that those who are taking the pain don't share his view.

The best we can expect of any Government is that the burden of cuts and taxes will be shared out equitably. Clearly there is a strong view within Labour that the budget failed to achieve this and having won votes on the promise of ensuring social justice in Government, the party's TDs shudder at the prospect of a lash-back from an angry public at the next election.

Amidst all the cuts and new charges that will make life a whole lot harder for Irish families, the cut of €10 and upward in child benefit stands out as a milestone. The Government could have taken all the child benefit from the rich so the less off wouldn't be hit but, instead, all families have been treated equally. They won't share the pain equally though: The rich won't notice the difference; the poor won't know how to plug the gap. Perhaps money lenders will be able to help out.

The cut in child benefit represents a broken election promise for the Labour party. Challenged about this on RTE's ' The Week in Politics' on Sunday night, Labour Minister Pat Rabbitte muttered dejectedly: "Well isn't that what you tend to do during an election?"

That was a very revealing statement from the mouth of a Government Minister. If this is any reflection of where the Government stands on solemn promises then we have good cause to be concerned about the integrity of any statement about where we stand with that 85 per cent of the ' heavy lifting'.

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