Back in the bleak days of the last global financial crisis, 13 years ago in case you have forgotten, such is the regularity that they now descend upon us, one of the most churlish and mean-spirited cost-saving measures in the government response was tucked away in the small print of the 2009 budget.
A €2.2m annual investment in the primary school library fund, used to provide new books for youngsters, was axed in its entirety that October.
As a financial measure, it had barely any impact on the black hole caused by excessive and irresponsible lending by an expansionist banking industry, and its deployment was lost among headlines about rises in third-level student fees, increases in class sizes, and teacher redundancies.
It was a budget that most of us remember with a shiver. It was the first in the tenure of Fianna Fáil’s Brian Lenihan as finance minister and the first of taoiseach Brian Cowen’s stewardship of the country.
The minister who presided over the miserable concept of taking access to new books away from small children was Batt O’Keeffe.
That may not be a legacy he wishes to be remembered for, and politicians of that era still point to Fianna Fáil’s presentation of the stringencies of the time as “a patriotic duty”,
But it was a rotten idea in 2008 and remains so today.
Schoolchildren, some from disadvantaged backgrounds, and some of whom are raised in environments where reading for pleasure is a rarity, have reduced access to new books or the shortfall has to be filled by donations or fundraising parents organising cake stalls or the host of other ingenious ways that gaps in provision are managed by enterprising volunteers.
A campaign backed by some of the country’s leading writers, including the current Laureate na nÓg, Áine Ní Ghlinn, and all of her five predecessors — Siobhán Parkinson, Niamh Sharkey, Eoin Colfer, PJ Lynch, and Sarah Crossan — is calling for restoration of the fund.
The objective is “every child a reader”. It deserves to be backed by everyone with an interest in building the future.