Friday, 31 October 2008

Budget anger

The Church of Ireland Gazette carries the following editorial comment on page 2 of this week’s edition (31 October 2008):

BUDGET ANGER

Nobody can blame the present government in Dublin for the present global economic crisis, but its handling of the crisis, its dealings with the major banks in the Republic, the way it has failed to understand public sentiment, its failure to think clearly about its budgetary proposals, and its inept response to public protests, all point to a government that is failing to provide leadership and confidence and to take control.

A budget is always a major test of confidence for any government. In any parliamentary democracy, proper planning at cabinet level and consultation with backbenchers so that they do not feel excluded ensures budgets are steered through without murmurings or revolts within the party ranks, or without concessions being made to pressure groups. Once the opposition gets a hint that a government is willing to make concessions to any and all comers, confidence in the cabinet and government ministers should and must begin to wilt.

In dealing with the crisis facing the Irish banks, it is obvious the Cowen government did so without taking wide and representative soundings. It appears the banks alone were listened to, and – unlike the result in most other EU member states – pledges were made and guarantees were given without taking any share or interest in the banks themselves. It is obvious that people were angry that those guarantees were given without anything being conceded in return, and European governments were angry that they had not been consulted.

Pensioners and the elderly are angry about the threatened withdrawal of medical cards and the decline in health care. The trade unions and social activists are angry that a one per cent levy is a heavier burden on the poor and the working class than a two per cent levy is for the super-rich. They are angry and believe the less well-off are being forced to pay for the mistakes of the rich and the decision makers. Students and teachers are angry at cutbacks in the classrooms and the possible reintroduction of third level fees.

Never before has a city centre church seen thousands of elderly citizens so openly vent their anger against government ministers. The elderly have marched in their tens of thousands with their grandchildren against this government. However, the Taoiseach was out of the country and could not feel the pulse of the nation.

The global economic crisis may have been inevitable, but this government simply was not equipped for, or capable of, dealing with the consequences at home.