JOHN DOLAN’S weekly take on the topics of the day
NEXT Thursday, the Dáil’s summer recess will begin.
How long will it last? Good question.
When I rang the Dáil to query this, they said it hadn’t been confirmed yet, but thought September 18 was the best bet.
That would make it two days longer than the 2011 summer recess, but hey, between ministers being named as multi-million euro debtors and TDs telling porkies about their VAT returns, it strikes me that some of them could do with a long lie down.
(Incidentally, the UK parliament begins its summer recess on Tuesday and returns more than a fortnight earlier than ours — then again, they are actually in charge of their country, unlike our government).
The Dáil’s summer recess is, of course, when the drip, drip season begins in earnest. No, I don’t mean our woeful wash-out summers — I mean the drip, drip of leaks in relation to the forthcoming December budget.
Journalists will be briefed, media commentators will hear whispers, newspapers will run exclusives, all claiming to have the inside track on cuts, trimmings, downsizings and other budget bombshells which are apparently being considered.
In the political vacuum that is Ireland’s summer, with ministers usually unable to be contacted for comment, a host of half-truths and half-baked ideas will be put ‘out there’ to gauge public opinion.
It’s the way the world of politics works. Warn the people of savage cutbacks here, of taxes there, then surprise them on budget day with only mildly savage cutbacks and slightly penal tax rises. Hell, we’ll be eating out of Michael Noonan’s hand come budget day.
Except this year will be different. A sea change has taken place. Ireland needs to make up a 3.5billion euro budget shortfall, agreed with the troika when they bailed us out. This will have to be done, irrespective of any deal on debt struck in October.
I don’t envy Finance Minister Noonan his task. Starting on September 18, he will have to start making some incredibly tough decisions during the countdown to budget day.
One thing is crystal clear to me. The coping classes, the hard-working people of this country, particularly families, have no more to give.
This week, another report laid bare the fragile finances of households up and down the country. More than 1.8 million people are left with 100 euro or less to live on a month, after essential bills are paid, according to the survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions.
If Minister Noonan burrows into that last 100 euro, it would be the moral equivalent of taking the last Rolo from a child on their birthday.
So where to make the major savings? There are only two viable solutions left — tackling some of the most generous public sector wage and welfare payments in Europe.
The State’s public sector wage and pension bill last year was in excess of 17billion euro. Surely a formula of cuts can be calculated which will leave the lower paid workers in the sector untouched and the middle earners relatively unscathed, whilst targeting the top earners?
Sure, this may render the Croke Park Agreement dead in the water and rile the unions… but the alternative is taxing the coping classes.
The State welfare bill is now 20.8billion euro — a third of all government expenditure. Again, there must be a way of trimming this without hitting the most vulnerable in society… yet again, the alternative is taxing the coping classes.
These are not easy options, but given the circumstances, they are the right ones.
Sure, Minister Noonan has a few limited ways of raising revenue — he is bound to go for the easy options of raising carbon and motor taxes, whilehe knows that cutting child benefits will not provoke a backlash from families too exhausted from the daily grind of life on the breadline to march on the Dáil. He will surely also seek yet more cuts in health and education, and look at privatising some State assets to raise cash
In a sense, the Finance Minister is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
His only option now is not the path of least resistance, it is the path of most resistance — the public sector and welfare budgets. I hope he is brave enough to tackle them.
Queen Are Rock Royalty
THERE are around 1,200 to choose from, so the job of naming the UK’s favourite all-time No.1 single is bound to be controversial.
The countdown of the top 40 will be unveiled on UTV tonight and tomorrow in one of those wonderful summertime TV filler shows that gets people talking.
Sadly, the public has been doing the voting — and online too — so we won’t expect a definitive answer, merely a song du jour.
The top ten contenders revealed this week contained a few examples of the latter: Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, Adele’s Someone Like You and Britney’s Baby One More Time may be good… but better than Elvis — who didn’t even make the list? Better than The Beatles’ Hey Jude, which did? No chance.
Of course, the winner should be Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, followed by Abba’s Dancing Queen.
PS: The current UK No.1 is Payphone by Maroon 5 (feat. Wiz Khalifa). ‘Feat’ is street talk for ‘featuring’, btw. ‘Btw’ is short for ‘by the way’. Do keep up, grandad.
Crossing The Line?
I CAN’T decide if this is sexist, so I’ll let you be the judge.
The mayor of the German town of Triberg has had parking spaces painted with a male or female symbol, depending on the level of driving difficulty needed to reverse into them.
The idea being that the easier options are left for women who, er, lack the spatial awareness of male motorists. Allegedly.
So is it unfair to women? Or unfair to men?