Brian Lenihan has delivered the Budget, and it seems that the greatest pain will be borne by the most vulnerable. But we already knew that, didn’t we? The Irish people will be made to suffer for the sake of a bank bailout that was never our fault, for wounds inflicted by lazy and corrupt politicians. I said before that “the government seems to be unwilling to stop giving money to Anglo-Irish, so the cost of running the country must be reduced somehow – and that means bleeding the ordinary citizens of Ireland dry.”
This is the first blood-letting. I suspect the full effect will take time to make itself known.
We can take comfort in knowing that the web of lies is finally beginning to fall apart, as support for Brian Cowen and Fianna Fáil plummets to a record low. It seems that we’re starting to wake up from the dream that they’ve tried to sell us; that they are actually competent and able to run the country successfully, that they can guide us out of this financial storm. The swing voters, who might have leaned towards FF out of familial obligation or out of tradition, cannot delude themselves any longer about the party’s true character. If the trend continues, we may even bear witness to the end of Fianna Fáil as a viable political entity, and a true turning point in Irish politics.
It’s all pie in the sky stuff, unfortunately, for the people on the ground who will take the brunt of FF’s treasonous actions. Who cares what happens in Dublin if your family in Galway can’t pay the bills? What does it matter to a TD on a still-fat salary if you’re in danger of losing your house because you’ve lost your job? And they don’t care, believe me, apart from one or two who desperately try to play the game in the hope of making a difference. The ones in power will ignore your rage and belittle your concerns until you start to think that maybe you deserve this, and there really isn’t anything you can do.
…or is there?
The Law is an Ass
The Dáil could say that we must share in the pain, and pay our taxes like good little citizens, but Cowen and his cronies seem to forget that they are not the only ones with a rather blasé attitude to the law.
This is Ireland. It’s all who you know, and who did you a favour last week – certainly not what’s illegal and what isn’t – and although it was that kind of thinking that got us into this mess, it might also be the thing that shields the ordinary people from the worst of it. In another country, and another populace faced with high, unfair taxes, you might get riots in the streets. Here, well, we’ll just find a way not to pay.
The black economy is already making a comeback. The article from 2009 says:
That would mean that, each month, over half a billion euro is generated that the taxman doesn’t ever get a penny of, or well over €1bn worth of missing-in-action VAT returns for this year alone. Brian Lenihan might find it very handy these days, amounting as it does to a quarter of what he has to find in the upcoming budget. This hidden economy could grow by a further €350m this year, or up to 0.9 per cent, Schneider predicts.
Everyone knows someone who’s been paid under the table. What better way to avoid paying back the debts of rich bankers? Oh, there are laws against it, but the Irish attitude to them seems to fall roughly in line with that of Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist: “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass.” I will easily predict that the black economy will grow faster than ever in the next few years as people begin trading among themselves, outside the sphere of the government.
It’s not a viable solution, of course. It’s certainly not going to do anything except destabilise the economy further, as less money goes to businesses operating legally. But this isn’t about economics, and there’s no such thing as ‘the greater good’ when it’s coming up to Christmas and you don’t have enough money to buy your child the present they want. It’s bloody minded tribalism all over again – but this time, it’s the government getting screwed. Whether the effects are ultimately ruinous for Ireland makes no difference; people will do it anyway to survive.
There will be no greater indictment of how the Dáil no longer speak for Ireland than if people stop paying their taxes. It would be a subtle rebellion; insidious, like a poison, and something that the government will not be able to stop. A default will not happen while the ECB have a vested interest in keeping Ireland afloat, so the main effect will be to strangle the Dáil and the supply of money going to run the country and pay the bankers’ debt. It will hurt us, long term, but in the short term it will keep a lot of people going.
But the future is still bleak for so many of us, even if tax dodging really does take off. Middle and lower income families will be hit hard by the reduction in child benefits and the minimum wage. With no more first time buyers’ relief, the dream of owning a home will be pushed even further away for younger workers. With the changes to business, entrepreneurs will feel the pinch and even fewer new companies will appear. The wealthiest Irish citizens are already paying the highest rate of tax, and they will not pay any more – and there are even some reports that they will gain a tax break overall.
A paltry cut in the Taoiseach’s salary and a €250k cap on public servants’ wages is pathetic. (There was also no mention of expenses – remember those? They’re still unvouched, meaning no receipts are required.) Cowen will take a reduction of €14,000 on his €200,000+ salary, and one can only assume he will not find it a stretch to support his family on what he has left. But for the person on minimum wage? Losing a single euro per hour is like taking a punch in the face; it amounts to a reduction of 11.5% of their income, and that cut is going to hurt. Cowen, in comparison, is losing only 6.1% of his, and I doubt he will even notice.
Don’t worry, though. They’re cutting down the number of ministerial cars, so that makes it alright.
The most heart-breaking part of this whole play is the sense that people truly feel powerless in the face of this wholesale razing of their country; that people would rather emigrate, and join the Irish diaspora in forging a new life in a foreign land, instead of trying to fix the broken shell of their home. That is the true crime of the politicians and their friends in high business – despair, driven into the soul of a nation, the last nail in the coffin of what used to be a sovereign state.
But the soul of Ireland – ah, now that’s something a little different. That’s something that can’t be killed.
We are a small country, but we are a great country. Our culture survived seven hundred years of oppression; today it’s celebrated across the world on St. Patrick’s Day. We’re welcomed just about everywhere, and famous for our music, art, dancing and wit. We are the country of Oscar Wilde, U2, Newgrange, and Guinness, and one of the few places in Europe that the Romans never conquered. We’re right next door to a colonial superpower, and we fought them for the right to choose our own destiny. We are a country of myth, legend, magic and story; saints, scholars, warriors and heroes; the ancestral home of eighty million people; renowned for generosity, loyalty, and spirit.
We have a lot to be proud of, and it was not built by the likes of Brian Cowen. For all our ideas that Ireland is insignificant, and really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, the truth is that Ireland has changed the world. We should never forget that. And so despite everything that has happened, and that will happen, I am still hopeful; I believe that Ireland will survive this, that we will survive this. In the blood and in the bone, we are greater than this one little island and the gombeen men who are trying to control it.
That is the final truth behind the veil of smoke and mirrors.
Eamon de Valera, addressing Winston Churchill after the end of WWII:
Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain’s stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the war. Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famine, massacres, in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but each time on returning to consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?