Budget 2011 - Our needs third on a list of three

AS the cabinet gathers at Farmleigh today to continue Budget 2011 preparations, it matters little that Fianna Fáil’s rating is at an all-time low.

There are more pressing issues at hand and though the party’s fate seems beyond redemption there is, for the rest of us, something still to play for.

At the 2007 general election Fianna Fáil won the support of 42% of the electorate but the weekend Sunday Business Post poll shows that support has collapsed to 18%. Fine Gael are up one point at 32% and Labour are up four points at 27%.

Fianna Fáil’s implosion almost mirrors the country’s predicament and, even if it hints at some sort of poetic justice, it is not in anyway consoling enough.

Far more pressing matters, if you can set aside the imperative of a democratic mandate for just a moment, will dominate the coming weeks.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s Government is believed to be working towards a cuts-and-taxes package of €4.5 billion to €5bn. These figures are spectacular and will change all of our lives dramatically but only time will tell if they are enough to satisfy the European Commission and the international lenders we have become utterly dependent on.

The truth is that the wishes and expectations of Irish people are a distant third in this triumvirate. We have mismanaged our affairs to such a degree that we have squandered our sovereignty and are being forced to put others’ expectations before our own. And, it seems, these will have to be satisfied before we can begin to rebuild our economy.

The EU cares not one whit whether we cut welfare by 4% or 5% or whether we continue to pretend that drinking water is free or that we delude ourselves by not having a property tax. They only care that our economic instability is contained and that we do not become a greater threat to the euro project.

We will know what the EU demands of us on December 7 because Finance Minister Brian Lenihan won’t propose a single measure that has not been approved by Brussels. Officials from the Commission have moved into the Department of Finance in Merrion Street so everything, every idea and suggestion, made at Farmleigh will be parsed to see if might threaten eurozone stability. Ireland and its citizens are now almost irrelevant bystanders in any context other than the threat we pose to the euro. The EU is not prepared to contemplate a recurrence of the crisis brought about by the Greek collapse earlier this year.

We will have to wait until January, when Mr Lenihan said Ireland will return to the international bond markets to try to borrow money, to gauge the markets’ reaction to our austerity measures. At this point anything less than a positive reception will bring our future as a fiscally independent republic into question.

And at that point it is difficult to see how an election can be deferred because the democratic deficit at the core of this process cannot be anything other than a short-term response to a crisis.


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