A personal view by John Dolan
ONE of the more depressing aspects of modern politicians is their complete dearth of ideas when it comes to tackling any issue that lands at their door.
This really shouldn’t be the case, given all the ‘working groups’ and ‘study modules’ that our politicians turn to when they want to fix a problem. They have also been known to set up ‘think tanks,’ call in one of the myriad quangos for advice, or perhaps fork out another million or two to ‘expert’ consultants.
After all, we can’t expect our highly paid ministers and TDs to actually come up with their own ideas to solve society’s problems, can we?
However, isn’t it strange, then, given all this expensive expertise at our politicians’ fingertips, that we nearly always get the same solution to problems — bleeding the ordinary people dry.
Example: Ireland has an alcohol problem. Eureka! We’ll bring in minimum pricing controls and make ordinary tipplers suffer too.
Example: Ireland has an obesity problem: Eureka! We’ll bring in a so- called sugar tax and make ordinary people suffer too.
In both these cases, people who enjoy a sensible, occasional tipple and the odd doughnut are set to be penalised for the sins of the few. And here’s the rub: Neither of these measures, making drink and fatty foods more expensive, will even begin to tackle the twin evils of drunken louts on our streets and ever-expanding waistlines. Because problem drinkers will still drink as much, and obese people will still chompse into junk food as much, even if the Government slaps a few more euros on them.
The issue of a sugar tax was raised again this week after shocking research, partly undertaken by UCC, indicated that, by 2020, the number of adults aged over 45 with diabetes in Ireland is set to rise to 9.1% of the population — or more than 175,000 people.
Many of these people are constantly ignoring warnings from their doctors and loved ones. Professor Ivan Perry of UCC said the rise in diabetes predicted in the study had the potential to overwhelm health services in the next decade, and he described current Government proposals for increased taxation on sugar sweetened soft drinks as critical.
The professor acknowledged it was unfortunate that warnings about the causes of obesity and diabetes were not changing behaviour in relation to diet and physical activity.
This view is supported by Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum, who has stated that a so-called ‘fat tax,’ where unhealthy, non-essential food is taxed, could be a major help in beating obesity. “Indulgence foods aren’t essential for life, and by increasing the price of the treats through tax, you’ve got a stark reminder that this isn’t terrific for you,” says Fry. “The money made from the taxes could then go towards subsidising healthy products like fruit and vegetables. It’s all part of a balancing act to try and change people’s behaviour into healthier eating.”
I can see the merits of the argument, and I also sympathise with the small percentage of people who are suffering from addictions to alcohol and food. However, the measures to bring in minimum alcohol prices and tax fatty foods are not necessarily targeted at those at this extreme end of the scale. And they will certainly have the greatest impact on the vast majority of people who are like me, and enjoy the odd glass of wine at weekends, and the odd fast food meal or sweet treat.
It seems the government wants to make some of life’s simple pleasures more expensive for all of us, in a vain attempt to tackle issues that simply are not going to be solved by price tinkering.
Of course, politicians will also have a beady eye on the extra tax take that these measures on alcohol and foods will bring in. Ker-ching!
But right now, consumers need higher prices for anything like they need another hole in their doughnut. These taxation proposals also have a sinister undertone in my mind — as if the thought police have had their righteous way with smokers and are now turning to those other health hazards of the working class: Booze and fast food.
ARE you enjoying the Olympics? Or are you wishing we had a little more to cheer in the way of medals? The truth is, our wonderful Olympians are woefully under- funded when it comes to government support, compared to many other countries.
It’s not as though we have much money to hand over to impoverished sports in the current climate, but it was revealed this week that taxpayers cough up an annual 29 million euro to the already plentiful horse racing sector. A large chunk of that would go a long way to creating a golden feelgood factor in future Olympiad, wouldn’t it?
Next week, I will reveal my solution to Ireland’s Olympic struggles.
THERE were a reported 4,000 supporters of Sean Quinn at a rally in his heartland last weekend. I couldn’t make it myself, but I’m delighted to confirm that, like nearly every other person in the country, I will be paying the 2% levy on my home and motor insurance, introduced as a result of the collapse of Quinn Insurance, for the next 20 years, according to the latest estimate.
So it seems I am ‘supporting’ Ireland’s former richest man, whether I like it or not. And so are you too. Maybe this weekend we can organise a march in support of all the ordinary people who are having to foot this bill. After all, we can’t have Sean Quinn hogging all of the sympathy.