It was Samuel Johnson who famously proclaimed in 1775 that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.
What we have been witnessing has little to do with real patriotism — it is a phoney patriotism. In the circumstances, the more appropriate word is treason.
THE US Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Senator Joe Biden, says raising taxes is patriotic. Speaking in a nationwide TV interview, he proclaimed: “It’s time to be patriotic.”
Did the Yanks set the tone for this week’s budget? “This budget serves no vested interest,” Finance Minister Brian Lenihan told the Dáil on Tuesday. “It is no less than a call to patriotic action.”
In fairness to Government ministers, they took a 10% cut in their salaries to give some example.
Enda Kenny had called on all the politicians to cut their salaries. So the Government did give some example by cutting their own over-inflated salaries, but they offered little in the way of real leadership. People in a city who have a car park space provided by their employer will have to pay €200 a year for the privilege. Yet ministers and TDs will be paying nothing for their prime parking spaces at Leinster House. What kind of leadership is that?
The opposition could hardly have been more critical of the decision to introduce a means test for medical cards for people over 70. “It the most stupid, callous own goal ever perpetrated by a government on the elderly folk of this country,” Enda Kenny declared.
In terms of political sagacity it is hard to imagine a more astounding piece of ineptitude than the way the decision to withdraw the medical cards was announced. There was no proper explanation of who would be affected.
The actual figure for the cut-off was initially €173.50 for a single person living with a family or €201.10 for other single people and €298 for a married couple.
In realistic terms it meant the family was going to be saddled with responsibility for the health costs of the elderly parent living with them. Families, without any regard to their income, were going to be victims of extortion as an elderly parent was being held hostage in the name of patriotism.
Elderly people were suddenly terrified of becoming an immense burden on their families. The sense of national outrage was palpable. The lower limit on the people living with a family was scrapped and the overall limit was raised to €240.30 a week for a single person and €480.60 for a married couple.
These changes were a stark admission that the Government did not know what they were doing in the first place. Tánaiste Mary Coughlan defended the decision on the grounds that it is unfair that “well-off pensioners, senior civil servants, High Court judges, property tycoons, ministers of state and hospital consultants” should have medical cards regardless of their incomes. Of course she was right, but who the hell gave them the medical cards in the first place?
“This is a recipe for economic disaster down the road,” I wrote in this column on March 27, 2002. “Free medical care for the aged was introduced under the Medicare programme in the United States during the 1960s. It was a noble gesture. The people reaching retirement age were the men who had fought in the world war in the cause of American democracy. But now the system is in a shambles.
“Yet we seem determined to make the same mistakes with even less resources. Surely we learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch — somebody always has to pay. When the politicians promise free medical cards, they are not free. Somebody is paying for them, and ultimately everybody will pay because the medical card system will be run into the ground with the growing scale of abuse.”
Some people terminated their VHI coverage as unnecessary when they reached 70. They are now up the proverbial creek without a paddle because they trusted their Government. This must be rectified.
It is nothing short of a gross betrayal. And we are being given this hypocritical rubbish about patriotism.
It was Samuel Johnson who famously proclaimed in 1775 that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. What we have been witnessing has little to do with real patriotism — it is a phoney patriotism. In the circumstances, the more appropriate word is treason.
An equally outrageous aspect of the budget was the 1% levy on the earnings of people who do not even earn enough to be in the tax net. What they are being asked to pay means really much more to them than the 10% cut in the grossly inflated ministerial salaries. Since 2004 ministers have increased their salaries by more than 25% to a total of €225,196.58, along with their state cars, free diesel, free parking and other perks.
“It doesn’t take guts to confront the old, the sick and the poor,” Charlie Haughey declared during the 1987 general election campaign. It was the soft option then and he took it himself in the following months when his government introduced savage health cuts which meant that much of the savings were at the expense of the most vulnerable elements in society.
In 1967, Donogh O’Malley announced his ‘free’ secondary education proposal. The Department of Finance went spare because no financial provisions had been made for this. O’Malley was an astute, far-seeing politician who realised the measure would be immensely popular and that Finance Minister Jack Lynch would swallow the proposal once he recognised its popularity.
Democratic politics are all about giving people the kind of government they desire. Popular measures are seen as good politics. Time has proven that Donogh O’Malley was both popular and right. Much of the affluence associated with the Celtic Tiger economy was founded on the educational improvements he initiated.
Charlie Haughey took up the running by introducing a range of measures for the elderly, like free travel on public transport, and free television, both of which represented a possible loss of revenue but no increase in cost.
IN THE general election of 1973, Fine Gael and Labour came up with a joint proposal to abolish VAT on food. Everybody has to eat and thus a tax on food is particularly penal on the poor.
One could argue the same about housing. Everybody has to live somewhere and Fianna Fáil sought to upstage the opposition by promising to remove rates from dwelling houses, but it was seen as too little, too late at the time. Fine Gael and Labour gained power in 1973, but Fianna Fáil took it back in 1977 by promising not only to remove the rates on dwelling houses, but also to remove the annual road tax on cars.
Both have since been reintroduced stealth taxes whether they call them water charges or fees for rubbish collection or the annual motor vehicle tax. Too many freebies had nearly bankrupted the country.
Now Fianna Fáil is talking about backing large mortgages for people to purchase a house. This is supposed to be for young people to get on the property ladder, but don’t be fooled — it is to bail out the bankers and the property speculators, the people who have got us into the present mess.
The Government and the politicians who are propping them up are the same ilk as the greedy financiers. God save Ireland from this shower of bankers playing the patriot game.
Report by Irish Examiner Newspaper