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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 6, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    If Power Starts Slipping to the Streets …

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Not for the first time, one wonders why politicians agree to appear on the Vincent Browne show on TV3. You can watch his interview this week with Labour deputy leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton by clicking here. To his credit, Browne makes a valiant effort to extract some detail from Deputy Burton as to what Labour would do about the economic crisis if it were in power. Like a medieval knight taking part in a siege, he throws himself again and again into the fray.

    All to no avail. Joan Burton’s consistent response is that she cannot give a detailed response because Labour don’t have the full facts. Browne pleads and pleads, at times almost bursting into mock tears, but the Deputy continues to stonewall. I have to say that, not since Kevin Barry has an Irish political figure held up so well under interrogation.

    The interview was a big talking-point in Leinster House next day. Some said Browne went too far and should have treated his guest a little more gently. Others took the view that it was time Labour stepped up to the plate, stopped playing politics and indulging in opposition for its own sake: the state of the country was far too serious for that.

    Of course, if Labour spells out what cuts, for example, it would make in power, then the party will lose support. Remember how vague Obama kept things in his campaign?

    Again I predict: the parties in the Dáil will finally unite on the economy in a bid to persuade the public to put aside its anger and pull together for the common good. But the danger is that, as with the first Lisbon referendum, they will leave it too late. By that time, power may have started slipping towards the streets.

     Then we’ll really be in trouble.

    • Michael Barry says:

      The government, with their defence that they only became aware of the full horror of the exchequer returns from Jan/Feb on Tuesday, are providing perfect cover for Labour’s tactics, and those of the opposition in general.

      After all, if the government are claiming that they don’t have the full facts, how can anyone expect the Labour party to have them?

    • Joanna Tuffy T.D. says:

      There has been a very good analysis of the tax situation by Colm Keena in your paper the last two days and both articles very starkly demonstrate where tax reform could start and how our tax receipts could be increased. According to yesterday’s article ‘Unequal distribution of income across society a taxing issue’: “The bulk of the figures in the table were given to the Labour Party’s spokeswoman on finance, Joan Burton, after she submitted detailed questions to Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan in the Dáil in November”.

      It has been Labour and in particular Joan Burton, that has been to the forefront in the Dail in attempting to get to the bottom of what the facts are about our tax receipts.

      In today’s article it is Labour T.D. Róisín Shortall that Colm refers to in relation to her efforts to get information about the massive tax foregone to the exchequer in tax breaks to private landlords: He writes “Recently, in the Dáil, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan told Róisín Shortall of the Labour Party that the Revenue estimated that tax relief for mortgage interest for landlords would cost the State €877 million in tax forgone in 2007. The figure for the previous year was €594 million. The Government indicated it had no intention of ending the scheme”.

      Reforming this particular tax relief is a specific suggestion that has been made by Joan Burton over the past few weeks. In addition Roisin Shortall has been the Dáil deputy that has done most to highlight the massive tax relief for very wealthy people who put money into self-administered pension schemes, a phenomenon also mentioned today by Colm in his article.


    • Peter B says:

      I think that Browne asked some pertinent questions and it’s time to get down to specifics. I think however that his questions would have been more appropriately directed at Lenihan or Cowen. As an accountant, I have been shocked at the apparent inability of the Dept of Finance to come up with accurate costings or projections. Over the past decade they have consistently produced inaccurate financial information. Is this incompetence or carelessness or both? Or perhaps its complacency because they don’t really care too much! And I’ve been told that employees of this Department are paid 10% more than their colleagues in other Departments! I wonder why? Joan Burton is correct when she states that the entire system of taxation in Ireland needs reform – this is a strategic level objective. What Labour need to do is produce a tactical plan setting out how this is to be achieved – numbers, time lines and so forth. She is also correct when she states that the Dept of Finance/Government do not seem to know the cost of current reliefs and so forth – that much is obvious and, as I say, hard to believe.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, our system of parliamentary democracy requires that the government of the day propose their policies in the chamber for the scrutiny and where necessary opposition of the opposition. It’s like the defence in a court case asking the prosecution to come up with reasons to acquit the defendant. We have a political system, it’s not perfect by any means but this idea that above all else FF must be allowed to stay in government and we have to put their mistakes behind us is frankly shocking. I know our politics is very Catholic, our TDs and cllrs as secular priests intercede with the powers that be, instead of the American or even British notion that we are as individuals sovereign and that the state works for us, but this let by-gones be by-gones is beyond me.

      This idea that is being trailed around the place and which the media are being very accepting of that the opposition should come out with proposals first which we know various government TDs will then poo-poo all over the airwaves before in all probability the cabinet will decide on adopting a slightly milder version thereof is nonsense.

      If FF really want FG or Labour to be the ones to come up with the ideas and to then support their implementation in the Oireachtas then why don’t FF just step aside?

      It really does just prove once and for all that FF ministers and TDs aren’t interested in the content of ideas or what actual decisions are so long as they are the one that get to make them.

    • Deaglán says:

      While some people think one of the beneficial side-effects of this crisis, assuming that we come through it, will be greater tax equity, another consideration comes to mind.

      That is, that all the gains made by the trade unions in regard to pay and conditions for their members will be rolled back. The crisis is the perfect excuse.

      That’s why it is important for the unions to be part of any solution so as to retain an element of control, rather than just waiting to have the worst inflicted on them.

    • Peter B says:

      Deaglán, I have mixed views on the unions, to be honest. They were active players in the benchmarking process which would now seem to have been a deeply flawed process and an exercise in abject greed and oportunism. The gains made by the trade unions, to which you refer, are now being rolled back becuase they were clearly excessive and unsustainable. The Unions, as I see it, operate primarily on behalf of the public sector, which would seem to be over paid, over staffed and, in parts, inefficient. On the basis of their track record, I’m not sure that Unions should be allowed continue to wield this level of power and influence. Workers rights aren’t totally predicated on remuneration and this is all the unions seem to be concerned with – as far as I can see.

      Irish society has changed dramatically over the past 25 years, or so. The influence of the church has all but disappeared, the banks are on their knees, the public service is under threat, the previously unquestionable is being questioned and we’re no longer a small insular country but part of the global economy. I think our society has lost its identity, cultural and otherwise and is no longer sure where it is going or what it is supposed to be. There is no leadership from any quarter; no vision, no focus. It is my hope that this recession will help re-focus people on what matters, will establish a more egalitarian society, re-establish our culture, our national identity and what it means to be Irish. I think that would be a very good outcome – economic issues aside.

    • Deaglán says:

      That’s a very thoughtful contribution, Peter B. You are right about the lack of direction and vision in Irish society. I don’t just mean at the political level but in a general sense. There is a lot of “me féinism” out there. The symbol of Irish society today is the Walking Machine. The fellow or girl is walking, walking, walking with great intensity – but not going anywhere.

    • Peter B says:

      It occurs to me that Ireland has spent the last decade obssessed with wealth – it was impossible to socialise without a discussion on property prices and salaries. For me anyhow, this had become exceedingly boring. Since the recession landed the focus has been on money, economics and so forth. Ironically, the cause of the latter has been the insatiable greed of the former.

      While the current economic issues are important, I truly believe that there are much more pertinent and important issues that need to be considered and addressed. As a society I feel that we are in an abyss. As you say we are walking with great intensity but going nowhere. I am hoping that when the obsession with money and materialism fades, people will start to realise what truly matters. Information technology and cheap travel has placed Ireland and every other country on the global stage. If however, we continue to lose our identity, forfeit our culture and represent nothing in particular, Ireland will ultimately become unidentifiable on that stage. Over the past few years some of the international goodwill Ireland enjoyed was damaged by the tribunals and revelations of political corruption. I suspect the current banking crisis, cronyism and lax regulation have had a major impact on this.

    • Highway61 says:

      Slightly off topic but…….

      With the risk of civil disobedience in the Republic rising, coupled with the very obvious increased opportunities for the Left, it will be interesting to see if Sinn Féin will unequivocally condemn last night’s murder of two British soldiers and urge co-operation with the investigation.

      The lack of leadership PeterB speaks of willl not only be an economic one but potentially a civil one too.

      I fear that we are rapidly slipping into the abyss.

    • SEANEEN OG says:

      What a bloody mess, but then what’s new? It’s the story of Ireland, so much crowing when EU money was flowing, now it’s crow on the menu for at least 10 years.

    • Ray D says:

      Benchmarking is history and get over it. There was only one award ever made and that was made years ago in the middle of this decade – and was based on comparisons with private sector earnings at the turn of the decade. Against that background, and given how well the private sector was flying in 2000/2001, undoubtedly the findings were fair.

      What has amazed me is how tolerant we all are when we allow the politicians to spin the falsehoods that it was the banks and developers who got us into this position of meltdown. Of course it was the policies that the politicians drove on with that got us here. When the people wake up from the spin, I think that the anger with the political system that we have will intensify.

    • Peter B says:

      Ray D while benchmarking may be history and part of a period of economic mismanagement that FF now want us all to forget about, it was wrong in terms of policy and execution.

      The Government had no policies apart form the neo-liberal PD agenda predicated on free-market operation, limited regulation and no ‘big government’, with Charlie McCreevy the willing implementor on the FF side. The notion of societal good diminished and it was all about economics and abject greed, rather than public services and financial stability.

      So while I agree that we cannot go forward while permanently looking rearward, I’m not sure that those who presided over the creation of this mess should now be entrusted with resolving it. I for one have absolutely no faith in the current Government or the Dept of Finance.

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