Clueless coalition is just brave enough to go for all the easy options
Opinion: If the Government is not following the FitzPatrick plan, what plan is it following?
The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin: do they know what they’re doing? Photograph: Eric Luke
Five years ago this month, the most visionary Irish economic mind of our times issued a rallying call for a “brave budget” to tackle the “sacred cows” of child benefit, State pensions and medical cards for the over-70s.
It must be some comfort to Seán FitzPatrick in these times of trial to know that his vision is coming to pass. The Government may not be gracious enough to admit that it is following the FitzPatrick plan, but it sure as hell isn’t following any other. It literally does not know what it is doing. Here are five things the Government does not know about its own budget.
1. It doesn’t know who will take most of the pain. The most basic calculation any half-serious administration would want to know about a budget is whether it is progressive or regressive: will it hurt the well off more than the worst off? Will it widen or narrow the gap between the rich and the poor? Neither the Government nor the semi-official think tank, the ESRI, can tell us.
2. It doesn’t know whether or not free GP care for the under-sixes is part of a plan for universal health insurance. Fine Gael and Labour have been committed to this idea for at least five years, and it is the major plank of social policy in the programme for government.
Opaque policy agenda
The first phase was to be free GP care for people with long-term illnesses – a plan that has been abandoned without explanation. So is the concession for the under-sixes the new first phase of a larger project? They don’t know. From Labour alone we have had three different answers. Kathleen Lynch says that this is it for the lifetime of this Government. Alex White says free GP care for all will follow in the Government’s lifetime. And Eamon Gilmore told us last week that he doesn’t know what the next phase of the plan is because it hasn’t been decided yet.
3. They don’t know the law. Joan Burton announced that savings in her budget will be achieved by deploying gardaí to mount checkpoints. “We will also be looking at areas like checkpoints in estates and on roads early in the morning as people, who otherwise are claiming benefits, are actually in fact going off to work either self-employed or working and not declaring it.” No one is obliged to answer any question from a garda about their work status, destination or social welfare record. If (and only if) a garda has reasonable grounds for believing that you have committed a crime, he or she can demand your name and address. Beyond that, there is just one statutory power to stop and interrogate: where someone is suspected under the Offences Against the State Act of armed violence or subversion.