A Snip in Time?
Deaglán de Bréadún
The Dáil may be gone for the Summer but politics refuses to lie down. First we had the Greens with their late-night abstention on the final vote for the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill and then we had Colm McCarthy’s Bord Snip Report.
That Report (Photograph by Alan Betson)
The Greens protested that they were acting out of sincere conviction and genuine concern and blamed Dermot Ahern for failing to respond with sufficient sensitivity to their concerns.
The few remaining denizens of Leinster House seemed to be positively overcome with cynicism about the Green abstention, pointing to the fact that Fine Gael were supporting the Government so there was no danger the Bill would be defeated. The cynics charged that the Greens were just throwing shapes ahead of today’s party conference on Lisbon and the Programme for Government. But perhaps they should take it more seriously than that.
Certainly Brian Cowen was taking it seriously and when I asked him about it this morning he said: “Well I think it’s important obviously to ensure that legislation adopted by government under the doctrine of collective responsibility is maintained and enacted, and that happened in this case. I’d like to think that it would be a very isolated incident.”
I have to report that he looked much more concerned in response to this question than to previous ones about Bord Snip. Mind you, Eamon Gilmore says the Report is a bit of a ready-up anyway, with the Government as the Bord’s ventriloquist.
Bord Snip was expected to come up with €3.5bn in public service cuts but actually came up with €5.3bn. This will suit the Government as it is more a menu than an agenda. The Coalition can pick out the least politically-toxic bits for implementation.
But even at that, the cuts are very severe and one wonders again if the FF-Green alliance can survive into the next Budget in December. The cause of the Lisbon Treaty will not be helped by Snip either. One can foresee the farmers and elements of the trade union movement taking a position that, “If you want this Treaty, you will have to pledge not to implement such-and-such proposals from Bord Snip.”
The Report, whether or not one approves of it, is a forensic document. I have never read in such detail about the working terms and conditions of teachers and college lecturers, for example. Colm McCarthy could be getting frosty looks in the UCD staff-room!
The Government’s position, which Cowen repeats and repeats and repeats, is that the money must be found to meet our obligations, otherwise the State will go bankrupt. Ireland will become Iceland (well, there’s only one letter in the difference.)
The most controversial Snip proposal is probably the one to cut Social Welfare by 5%. It is hard to see any Government, especially a Fianna Fáil-led one, cutting the basic rates. The shadow of Ernest Blythe will see to that. But there won’t be any significant increases this time round, I’d wager.
There are also signs of trouble over the plan to cut back the number of local councils. This hits politicians where it hurts and FF Senator Ned O’Sullivan from Kerry issued a strong statement of opposition tonight. I believe today’s Joe Duffy Show was a whingefest par excellence.
It was a little disappointing that the Bord Snip report shied away from proposing a reduction in the number of TDs and Cabinet Ministers. If a constitutional amendment is required for significant chagne, so what? Colm McCarthy pointed out that the British have 31 cabinet members – but it’s a much bigger country in geographical and population terms. The Report does suggest a unicameral legislature, i.e., abolishing the Seanad, but there’s very little chance of that. Another one I didn’t see in the Report was a suggestion to reduce the salaries of Department of Finance personnel, who reportedly get ten per cent more than officials in other departments.
Summer or not, we’re in for a lively six or seven months.