All together now — let’s give them the silent treatment on budget day

CAN I make a modest suggestion.

If we all did it, it would make a profound difference. It would send a message to the entire world.

The sort of message even a deaf, dumb and blind government can’t ignore.

Here’s what I propose. A silent, dignified national protest. By all 4,239,848 of us — yes, including the children and the elderly people.

Every single one of us, to the maximum physical extent possible, doing the same thing at the same time.

At 2pm on budget day, December 7, whatever you’re doing, stop. Whether you’re working or shopping, or taking a walk, just stop. For 10 minutes. Everyone.

Irrespective of your party or your politics, gather with your neighbours in the estate you live in, or your co-workers in your office or factory, hospital or library. If there’s nowhere to gather, lean out a window (safely, of course). Don’t shout, don’t fight. You could hold up a sign — just write it out on whatever comes to hand.

Keep the message simple ‘Go Now. Give Us Back Our Country. We’re Entitled To The Truth’. Something like that, or whatever occurs to you.

They’ve brought our country to its knees. Let us, just for 10 minutes, get off our knees and bring our country to a stop. A complete, silent, democratic, dignified, standstill. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll listen to our silence.

I’m not suggesting this as an alternative to next Saturday’s protest march in Dublin, which I hope and expect will be huge. But as big as it is, there will be thousands of people who can’t make it there, or aren’t able to march.

But we’re all affected, in all sorts of different ways, by what’s happening to our country. We all need to find a way to say and do something about it.

To be honest, I didn’t think of this idea. It was a man called Liam Hogan who I met up in Donegal over the weekend who suggested it.

The people of Donegal (at least the south-west half of the county) will lodge their own protest in the by-election next Thursday.

The man I went up to support, Frank McBrearty, is making a huge impression on the electorate there. But the real shock news from that by-election may well be — and remember you heard it here first — when Fianna Fáil come fourth in a by-election they said they couldn’t lose.

And that will only be the first of many deserved messages.

Do you know what they reminded me of this week, more than anything else? Well, who said this: “… The general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be — permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying. So, mental reservation is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.”

That was Cardinal Desmond Connell, the former Archbishop of Dublin. He was talking to the Murphy inquiry into how the Dublin diocese systematically covered up sexual abuse by its priests. In the course of his answers he made the shocking (though perhaps not surprising) admission that bishops and cardinals have been taught how to tell lies. The technique is called mental reservation.

When ministers hide behind technical gobbledegook, it’s exactly the same thing. Day after day, our Government told us lies using mental reservation — constantly hoping and expecting we would accept the untrue versions of what they were saying. And it had nothing to do with preserving a negotiating position — it was all about saving the Government’s own face.

This went on at a time when our country was in the greatest possible economic danger. It’s hard to imagine anything more unforgivable.

Now look at what is to happen next. The lowest-paid people in Ireland are those who work on the minimum wage and they are going to take the first hit. The Minister for Finance admitted over the weekend he already has the minimum wage in his sights — and that means hardship for thousands and thousands of people who already live on the margins of poverty.

And that cut in the minimum wage will have no impact on the €6 billion budget — it’s over and above the savings that are proposed for budget day.

We know already that just as the minimum wage is going down, most social welfare rates will go down too, as will most forms of child and family support.

In other words, it is already proposed that people who have little or nothing will be forced to carry a major share of the burden of readjustment. It is people who are poor who will also suffer most from any cuts that take place in health services and in education.

Astonishingly, it could well be the case that the Government also intends to target people on the lowest levels of income in relation to the tax changes that will also form a core part of the six-billion budget. Thousands of people taken out of the tax net because their incomes are too low are likely to be asked (actually, forced) to start paying tax again. That’s what the six-billion budget is all about.

I don’t know whether the Government is kidding itself or trying to kid us, but I’m getting sick to the back teeth of listening to ministers announcing they’ve already taken the tough decisions, that the IMF entirely supports the measures in the budget and the four-year plan.

THE Minister for Finance was at it again on Morning Ireland yesterday — “the budget on December 7 will be ours, and nobody else’s”. He went on to say the IMF was “impressed” by the Government’s plan, and “entirely supportive” of the Government’s position.

So why in the name of God are the IMF here then? They’ve seen the plan, even though the Dáil hasn’t. What more do we need to know about who is really in charge of Ireland now?

It’s got to the point where ministers are so self-delusional they actually believe their own propaganda that they are preserving Ireland’s independence, having just given it away for at least the next five years. It’s the same kind of delusion that enables them to argue they’re protecting the vulnerable — while they’re preparing to screw the poorest people in the country.

But it’s not too late for us, as a people, to react. The next Government of this country has five years of hard slog ahead of it.

Our economy — and now our independence — will have to be rebuilt inch by painful inch. The budget of December 7, with all its social damage, must be the last piece of destruction visited on us by this Government.

There can be no more lies, no more deceit. We all need to unite around one thing... the first step to getting our country back is that this Government must go and late January won’t be a moment too soon.

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