Politburo or Poltroons? It’s hard to characterise what the government strategy signifies for the lives of citizens any more
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Finally back to the Dail this week, the government is under pressure on a number of fronts, and not just in terms of the inevitable power wrangling between the big spending departments over the contents of next December’s budget. This post takes a brief look at a couple of those areas and question the approach taken by the Ministers directly responsible, and by extension their colleagues in the Cabinet who ostensibly endorse their actions.
Is it a sort of Politburo that we’re dealing with, or a collection of poltroons who, devoid of any imagination or strategic direction, are ineffectually muddling their way through in hope that it will all work out alright in the end?
Ireland’s Debt Relief
If the definition of insanity, or stupidity, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then there’s a pattern emerging on the Irish debt relief issue. The Irish civil service are clearly working hard behind the scenes preparing the ground for a breakthrough at European level. Michael Noonan, or the Taoiseach, then fly off to some high level EU meeting, amid hyped expectations in the media that ‘the moment’ is at hand. It’s happened at least three times in the current year, but always the result is the same : it’ll be ‘jam tomorrow’.
Before the parliamentary summer recess the media confidently asserted that a deal on Ireland’s sovereign debt must be signed and sealed by the end of October. Otherwise it would be too late, the pundits told us, and they were hardly making up this line by themselves. Ireland takes over the EU presidency in January and it would be either improper or impossible for a deal to emerge during that six month period, they suggested. The specific mention of Ireland in the June EU Council communiqué was lauded as a major landmark in the government’s strategy to convince its EU partners of the virtue of a deal to ease Ireland’s banking debt burden before the end of the year.
Yet once again, Finance Minister, Michael Noonan has returned from an EU meeting with one hand as long as the other and both conspicuously empty. The latest government lines vary between it being better to get the ‘right’ deal than a flawed one, or ‘it’s Spain’ that’s holding up consideration of Ireland’s case (it used to be Greece). It’s all wearing a bit thin. The state is in hock to the tune of 48 billion euro for the Anglo ‘Promissory Notes’; 30 billion for the notes themselves, plus 17 billion in interest payments. Overall, the cost of the banking collapse to Ireland is about 87bn euro., which is unsustainable.
At what point will this government admit that their debt relief plan is not working? That it’s time for a change of tack?
Dr James Reilly distinguished himself during the ‘silly season’ by creating another fine old mess in the health services, this time about a HSE list of cuts to redeem the overrun, largely caused by his own inaction, in this year’s health Budget. The apogee of this particular debacle was the Minister’s appearance on an RTE Prime Time programme, following a major U-turn on 10m euro worth of planned cuts to personal assistants for the disabled, which he claimed was not a U- turn, since no such cut was ever planned to take place.
Clearly we all imagined it. And the HSE statement which set out in black and white that this cut would take place – we imagined that too. And the Taoiseach’s exhortation that we should ‘congratulate’ the Minister for his bravery in performing such a U-turn, well we imagined that as well or Enda Kenny was imagining it or….whatever.
Tonight, 19 September 2012, the government backbenchers and Minister Reilly’s government colleagues will perform their own U-turn into the ‘Ta’ lobby to vote confidence in James Reilly. It’s good that someone has confidence in him. To many others outside the cauldron of Leinster Hosue, he gives a fair impression of being increasingly delusional, if that RTE interview was anything to go by. Either that, or thoroughly duplicitous, as well as incompetent, in his oversight of the health system.
Environment & Property Taxes
Speaking of incompetent Ministers, Phil Hogan’s sojourn in Environment has also, regrettably, thus far failed to impress. The household charge revealed heavy-handedness and political ineptitude on a grand scale. About 40% of householders have still failed to pay up; many of them because they cannot afford to pay due to their own levels of personal indebtedness; others because they were angry about the unfairness of the flat tax approach; and still others who reckoned they could get away with it.
Not it looks like those particular characters may well get away with it. But Superman Phil has a plan to make them suffer – those local authority areas where such miscreants failed to cough up will have their services cut pro rata. Those who paid the charge will suffer as much as those who didn’t; a perfect recipe for equable community relations! And it turns out that nobody knows who should have paid, but didn’t; because there’s no proper register of households in the state.
So local authorities have begun to resort to all sorts of ruses to find out … which all augurs very badly indeed for the property tax the government has promised will be laid out in all its gory detail in the Budget and implemented by July next year. Hmm…we’ll see. No sign of a plan for local authority reform from the Minister, which would probably save a great deal more than the household chrage or any property tax will ever raise in the long run.
One such ruse to force compliance with the hoseuhold charge has been the action by County Councils in Clare and South Tipperary demanding information from applicants for third level college grants as to their parents’s compliance with the tax, warning that student grants might be delayed, or payment deducted from the overall grant and so on.
According to the Irish Examiner, the Data Protection Office has been in touch with Clare County Council to advise them that they can’t use any information gained by this method to pursue households who did not pay the charge. Labour Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, didn’t pause for thought, however, about the implications of what he was saying before coming out in support of the actions of Clare County Council…
Croke Park and Public Service allowances
Which leads one to wonder if the Minsiter for Education and Science was among those who resisted his colleague, the Minister for Public Service Reform, Brendan Howlin’s attempt to cut a swathe through the 1,100 plus allowances that apply to various categories of public servant across a vast range of employments?
In the end the Minister for Public Service Reform announced one allowance cut, amounting to a saving of 3.5m euro; 72.5m euro short of the projected savings target for this year, which only made him look ridiculous and which, long term, seriously undermines his credibility. Given the importance of his job, this is not a positive development.
I could go on to employment and the disastrous picture revealed in the CSO figures this morning, which throws a less than flattering light on this government’s various so- called jobs initiatives/job creation efforts. Or that economic growth projections for this year have fallen apart, although that does not appear to faze the government or cause it to start rethinking its strategy.
But where is the strategy in our experience of this government over the past 18 months? Answers on a post card anyone?