Here in Ireland we have just been subjected to the latest in a line of “austerity budgets”. I thought I was beyond being astonished at how craven our government – in their willing complicity with the diktats of The Market – could be. How wrong I was. The brutal cynicism of the Fine Gael / Labour coalition has dropped even my jaw (personally I think the Labour Party should be forced to change their name under trades description legislation). It was a budget bordering on the wilfully evil.
There were savage cuts to disability benefits, child benefit, the winter fuel allowance, community employment schemes, the back-to-school allowance and much more… some of which will save a few million at most while making life unbearable for those already at breaking point. Despite the steadfast refusal to even discuss raising taxes on the wealthiest and the highest earners, we saw an enthusiastic embrace of VAT increases, a flat-tax household charge and other indirect taxes that will hit the most vulnerable hardest. And to add insult to injury, we were forced to endure the obscene spectacle of ministers earning a small fortune appearing on TV to tell us just how difficult it was for them to inflict such pain on the nation. How they’d done all they could do in order to ensure that the burden of austerity was being shared equally. Orwell’s observation that “some are more equal than others” may as well be the slogan for this government. Poor dears, in their ministerial cars, with their gilt-edged pensions, generous expense accounts and salaries of over 5 times the national average.
Vincent Browne, one of the few remaining voices of sanity in Irish public life, perfectly illustrated this rank hypocrisy when he cornered Brian Hayes – a Fine Gael minister – on his show. The politician bristled with indignation when Browne suggested he was on a salary of €150,000… it was only €130,000 he protested. That’s still a “mega-salary” insisted Browne (quite rightly) and went on to wonder… “compared with the people you have afflicted in this budget, isn’t there something grotesque about you people sitting around and commiserating with yourselves about the hard decisions you have to take when all the pain of those hard decisions is on somebody else?” The blustering arrogance as Hayes tried to wriggle out of the question was cringe-inducing. “The pain is throughout our society”, he stated (almost as though he believed it). Browne rounded on him… “No it’s not! How is it on you? You get away scot-free!” Hayes eventually resorted to plaintively pointing out that the VAT increase would affect him too. He then tried to make the issue about just how sincere Vincent Browne’s outrage was… this contempt for the public is gut-churning, and I desperately hope that the people of Dublin South West consign him to the dustbin of history at the next election.
You can see the exchange here:
Alternatively you can watch the entire programme, for a limited time here, though that may not be available outside Ireland.
The assertion that a 2% VAT increase will affect someone on 130 grand in anything like the same way it will affect someone on welfare, or even someone on the average national wage… that “the pain” is truly being felt “throughout society”… indicates one of the following; (a) that Brian Hayes is an idiot, (b) that he’s utterly out of touch with reality, or (c) that he’s a bare-faced liar of the worst kind. I won’t say which one I think it is, but I will say that all of those are terrible traits for someone in a position of power. That he then tried to change the subject and discuss the attitude of the interviewer, the day on which such a devastating budget had been announced, just made him seem even more pathetic. I know I lambaste politicians on a regular basis, but Brian Hayes managed to plumb new depths last week. Though I suspect it won’t be long before someone from Labour or Fine Gael discovers yet deeper waters of iniquity in which to swim.
Photo courtesy of Politico.ie