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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 7, 2011 @ 9:30 am

    Banana skins

    Harry McGee

    Michael Noonan gave an indication last night the cuts in disability allowances will be reviewed.

    Patrick Nulty cited it as one of the reasons he voted against the Budget. But it was only one of a myriad of reasons. It was very clear from his long statement last night that the tipping point had been reached for him as soon as he was elected. Many of his relatively newly-elected colleagues in Labour were very unhappy with him last night, contending he had not bee upfront to them as to his true intentions when elected.

    The cuts to disability allowance essentially removed the allowance from 16 and 17 year-olds. However, it was for the cohort between 18 and 24 that the real damage was done. The intention behind the change was to put them on the same footing as the unemployed of the same age, with reductions to encourage ‘labour activation’ – essentially less money to compel people to do job training or find employment.

    That’s all very well for disabled people who can find work (and of course it will always be harder for them to find it). But there are many who can never hope to work. A Fine Gael backbench TD cited those with cerebral palsy, severe Down’s Syndrome and with more serious forms of autism. What the disabled allowance did was allow them to have an independent income, reduced their own familial dependency.

    Cuts of €100 per week for 18 to 21 year olds and of €88 per week for 21 to 24 year olds were punitive. This time it was not just by the opposition which railed against it (it was a major theme for Fianna Fail) but also members of both Government parties. A multiplicity of TDS from Fine Gael and Labour spoke against the measures at meetings yesterday – with Fine Gael backbenchers feeling so exercised that a delegation of four TDs sought a meeting with Joan Burton last night.

    Like a slowly incubating virus, sometimes the nasty shocks of a Budget take a little while to break the surface. With a slash and burn exercise, it is inevitable and unavoidable that there will be public and political recoil.

    Here is a list of the potential banana skins identified so far. Some will be avoided, others may turn out to cause only minor ripples, while one or two may have lasting repercussions.

    1. Cuts in disability allowance

    2. VHI hikes as a result of charging for private beds

    3. Cutting the fuel allowance season

    4. Cuts in back to school allowance

    5. Cuts in child benefit (but not as impactful)

    6. Cuts in one parent payments

    7. Abandonment of pward only rent reviews (politically embarrassing)

    8. Retention of property taxes (another potential political embarrassment, given both parties insistence in opposition they would abolish them fortwith).

    And there are probably more that will show their heads over the next few days.

    • Catherine r. says:

      All I can remember is how the current coalition partners and Joan Burton, in particular, when on the opposition benches, strategically and viciously HARANGUED (writ large) Brian Lenihan, then Minister for Finance and in the throes of terminal cancer; but so courageously giving his every last breath to put a strategy in place for economic recovery. The shrieking in Kildare Street of the Labour Party’s “siren” could be heard in Nassau Street……..”YOU CANCELLED CHRISTMAS” was the deafening shriek in response to the Christmas Bonus being suspended for people on Social Welfare payments as one of the previous administration’s measures to bring down the fiscal deficit………which is ironic for many reasons, not least that the Labour Party is well known for it’s atheistic tendencies and has no great love for the feast of the Birth of Christ and which for Irish Roman Catholics has always had great significance. Oh and what was it that the Labour Party leader did?? This man of hubris made that outrageously bad decision to close one of Ireland’s oldest Mission’s abroad, the Irish Embassy to the Holy See at Rome and for the most outlandishly unbelievable reasons. And here we are one year later, Budget 2011, and now Minister for Social Protection and Family Affairs, NOT A PEEP out of Joan Burton with regard to even a little extra CHRISTMAS BONUS for families on Social Welfare with small children. Instead families with three or more children will suffer a major reduction in Children’s Allowance and which will mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for the wealthy in our society that continue to receive the same children’s allowance payments as those poor and underprivileged in our society trying to put bread on the table and a few toys under the tree. Shame.

      If the spirit behind this budget were to be demonstratively represented as an allegorical character, the figure of the Lernean Hydra would easily come to mind. Where’s a Heracles when you need him??

    • Jane says:

      And what happened to reforms? Remember how they were going to comb through the system and reform it to make it work better while also finding the huge savings? There are so many reforms needed, it is hard to believe they have forgotten already.

      Yes, there is a plan (still) to reform child benefit so it iwill be means tested. We are waiting.

      As for the mess that is Disability benefit, surely it is obvious that there is a difference between disabled youth who unfortunately will never be employable, those who are have the potential to be employable if they were supported by mentors or shadows, and those who could be employed now, if there was any suitable work for them.

      During the boom the last government threw money at social welfare and health problems in the form of benefits, but did not sufficiently develop the supports and enabling structures to grow self-determination. Just exactly how does taking away some of the money help? It only makes people poorer and more vulnerable.

      Let’s have fewer TDs, pay them less, pay their advisors less, cut their expenses further, be sure they don’t get pensions until they are 66, and convince them it is time to work out the reforms that are needed, not just slash the bottom line at the weakest political points. How about downward only bench-marking? A special tax on bonuses in banks…there are plenty of ideas out there, but no wish to do the hard work and little conviction about social equality.

    • Chris Scrivens says:

      This Budget is a direct hit on the weakest in society. It was ratified in advance by the Bundestag and this shows a total loss of Sovereignty. It puts the man in the street back to the 1950s when the only solution was to leave!

    • jaygee says:

      Harry, I think your number 1 is the biggest shocker.
      I can’t see even the most stony-hearted who would support this on reflection.
      I can see a U turn on this one.

    • Pat Murphy says:

      If we had no medical insurance we would be entitled to free hospital accommodation and treatement. Because we have insurance, we are being charged for use of the facilities so this provision will have to be reversed or we will give up insurance thus clogging the system even more

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Were we naive to believe that FG & L would actually push through reform?

      I guess we were to think that a group of failed school teachers from backward rural communities (let’s face it Dublin is bad enough but the further you go from Dublin the more rampant cronyism and localism is in politics) would have what it takes to turn a bankrupt country into a modern solvent equal and dynamic equal society along Nordic lines – the Irish mentality can’t conceive of such a thing so how on earth could someone like Howlin or Noonan be able to deliver it. More fool us for deluding ourselves.

      Why is it pension tax relief is still being paid to anyone. It should be scrapped immediately as it is paid for with taxes from people who have no pensions – public or private. But of course The Croke Park Agreement should be scrapped but it won’t be.

      Did you know Enda Kenny claimed over €41k tax free in expenses on top of his salary for 2010 alone yet he has the cheek to use the words fairness and equality when he spoke to the public on Sunday. So chances are he’s claimed the same amount for every year back to at least 2002 on average and he is still claiming mortgage interest relief on a Dublin flat that has no mortgage. Multiple him by the claims made by every elected public rep at local, national and European level, then add in the myriad of consultants and judges and senior ranking officials across the public sector and the civil service and then add in the myriad of allowances paid at all levels of the public and civil service and we see where the billions are being wasted.

      Then again, I guess as long as those at the top utterly fail to lead by example, why should the rest of us just sit back and accept more and more cuts for less and less services.

      There was not one mention in either budget of political expenses and allowances and the TDs who were earning €1800 net per week will continue to do so and as bad as it is to see the government try to claim it was doing something worthwhile, it’s even more nausiating to see the opposition wailing – the same opposition who are happy to pocket whopping salaries and expenses.

    • Barry says:

      FF bankrupted the country. We are reaping the whirlwind. We will continue to do so for many years. This country is now a financial basket case thanks to the political lunacy from 2002- 2007. Then throw in the bank guarantee. This was the coup de grace.


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