Official Ireland deals out cuts as it eats foie gras

When is the last time you were positively surprised by a decision in Official Ireland?

Have you seen any politician or civil servant announce a plan, initiative, or idea that had a direct or indirect consequence that made your life better?

Can you envisage anything looming ahead that might resemble a move forward in the state of our country? If the answers to these questions are no, you are joining a fast-growing cohort in Irish society. The more it happens, the greater a probability of an energetic backlash. When it comes, those in power may not be prepared.

For the last four years, all of us have listened to a litany of bad news emanating from those who hold power in Ireland. The massive collapse of the financial system and evidence elsewhere of corruption were quickly followed by a long list of charges and taxes designed to screw you and me for the bill.

Everything, from insurance polices to pensions, incomes to household items, has been targeted with levies, taxes, and charges. More is planned in next month’s budget. Having presided over a system that inflated asset values recklessly, Official Ireland, backed by an unelected troika, has chosen to gouge ordinary Irish people in a forlorn hope of paying off monumental levels of debt.

Some time ago, Michael Collins had no country, no currency, and no cadre of supposedly smart civil servants to navigate an independent state out of the world’s most powerful empire. Yet he did it.

Now, instead of evidence that such a spirit is alive and well, we can only witness genuflection at the altar of broken economics. Upon news that growth forecasts are weakening, the head of the Department of Finance wants a tougher budget imposed on Irish people.

Instead of threatening Europe that we will close down the EU presidency in the first half of 2013, we are busy licking up to a Brussels edifice where spending increases and tax breaks are givens for the bureaucracy’s employees. Instead of pointing out that the troika is composed of just another group of ordinary five-eights, we treat them like paragons of virtue.

This easy-going and cosy stitch-up is being perpetrated by a Dáil where opposition seems intent on imposing even more hardship. It is dressed up as “taxing the rich”, but don’t kid yourself. Anyone in Ireland earning more than €100,000 per year has now got a red dot on their forehead. They are legitimate targets for politicians who choose populist headlines over hard facts to gain advantage. It also helps that this income cohort are still largely in the country.

Those on low or no incomes have to contend with a 14% unemployment rate and rampant emigration, so their ability to resist our leaders’ wishes are limp too. Gabriel Byrne’s caustic view of The Gathering last week has revealed an open sore in this context.

We are emigrating by the truckload, and then smother those abroad with glossy ads designed to entice them back for a holiday. Many of them don’t want occasional holidays in Ireland. They would prefer secure, sustainable employment in a society where housing is affordable, politics are honest, and corruption is eliminated. Delivering these elements of civil society is what our leaders should be stretching every sinew to secure.

I’m increasingly up for something more athletic than soundbites outside lush buildings around Europe where plans to nail citizens even more are debated over plates of foie gras. I’m not talking here about the trendy lefty types who inhabit parts of our parliament.

It needs an agenda that can, drone-like, hit a number of legitimate economic targets, such as:

(1) A 50% elimination of legacy bank debt;

(2) Tax cuts (real ones) biased towards lower income earners, along with frozen rates for higher earners;

(3) Corporate tax incentives to unleash water and broadband-based employment intensive infrastructure programmes, and;

(4) Government spending that comes in to line with income via pay adjustments, not redundancies. This, in other words, is a stimulus package and could reignite morale, confidence, and economic growth. It’s better than the tumbleweed rolling around Dáil Éireann.

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