Reaction to Budget 2009


Madam, - Sarah Carey (Opinion, October 22nd) and others have defended the Government's decision to means-test the provision of over-70s medical cards by asking the question: Why should rich older people get free healthcare? This echoes a question recently asked by the Minister of Education: Why should millionaires' children get free university fees?

Their argument has a simplistic attraction, but on closer examination it is deeply flawed. It masks an ideological attack on the principle of universal access to public services such as health and education. Of course millionaires should pay more for such services - but according to the European social model, this is best done indirectly, through a progressive tax and social insurance system. Thus the rich pay higher taxes than the poor, but access to services is provided equally to all, based on need and irrespective of income.

This application of the principle of universality is widely accepted within our national schooling system. It has immense social benefit in preventing segregation, because the children of the rich attend the same primary schools as the children of the poor. Yet in last week's budget, the Minister for Finance signalled that all universal payments are now somehow suspect - even child benefit. This policy shift is immensely regressive. We already have a two-tier health system, where private patients can jump the queue for medical treatment.

The universal over-70s medical card could have represented a welcome move towards a universal healthcare system in this country. Instead, we are facing the development of a two-tier structure, where access to all public services may be means-tested in future. An infinitely fairer approach would have been to impose a higher tax rate on the wealthy.

This attack on universality is bad for us all. - Yours, etc,


Seanad Éireann,

Dublin 2.

Madam, - I am devastated to read that, according to Jackie Healy-Rae, there isn't a single pensioner in Kerry South, old or young, big, little or small, long, short or narrow, who has an annual income of more than €700 a week.

The denizens of that impoverished constituency surely deserve more effective representation in the Oireachtas. - Yours, etc,



Dublin 9.

Madam, - Why are the Greens still on the Government's side in the Dáil? Let the raggle-taggle so-called Independents support Fianna Fáil if they like, but last Wednesday evening's vote on the motion to reject the Budget's withdrawal of a universal medical card for the over-70s should have been a defining moment in the history of the Green Party in Ireland.

Having been in the flea-infested bed for long enough now to get itchy, John Gormley Co had the perfect chance to cement their place in the Irish collective psyche for many years to come. Instead they have slowly started to become indistinguishable from the senior Government partner.

That is hardly an association that will stand them in good stead, considering the state of the Progressive Democrats, whose demise can be traced directly back to refusal of their now-redundant former leader, Michael McDowell, to pull the plug on Bertie Ahern over his financial wrangling at the Mahon tribunal. Would Mr McDowell have lost his seat at the last general election if he had acted bravely when it mattered? The irony that John Gormley benefited substantially from Michael McDowell's decision to replace integrity with a leather-upholstered seat for a few more months should not be lost on the Greens, lest they go the same way as their former sworn enemies. - Yours, etc,




Co Waterford.

Madam, - The lack of innovative and lateral thinking in the Budget is staggering. One has to ask why the Government is so reluctant to tap the bankers, developers and super-rich for the much needed revenue. Is there something we should know?

I fear another tribunal! - Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Madam - In recent days I have observed my senior-citizen mother and her friends in utter confusion about the future of their medical cards. This was not helped by the ham-fisted attempts by the Taoiseach and some of his Ministers to communicate their varied changes to an increasingly bewildered populace. Each attempt appeared worse than the one that had preceded it. The now favoured medium of RTÉ's Six-One News, where Ministers appear in Bryan Dobson's confessional, is possibly not the best means to communicate how a means-test works. This was made worse by other Ministers who mused on radio shows on the merits or otherwise of universal schemes, while the Minister for Finance was busy assuring the nation that the future of other such schemes were not in doubt.

But poor communications is not a new phenomenon with this Government. Its Their efforts on the Lisbon Treaty set the benchmark and it seems that standards just continue to slip and slip.

Government leaders have now landed themselves in the quagmire and used up a serious amount of political capital in the process. They are now vulnerable to ambush by every half-decent organised lobby. One must wonder what will happen if they attempt a re-run of the Lisbon Treaty. - Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

Madam, — Pensioners, students, teachers and trade unionists - to name but a few interest groups - reject any proposed Government cuts in their areas of concern at a time when the State is spending €10 million a day more than the Exchequer is able to raise. What, one wonders, is the solution being proposed by those opposed to cuts? Ireland is a low-tax economy and, in recent decades, the public has consistently supported this state of affairs at the ballot box - so much so that even the Labour Party proposed to cut taxes before last year's general election.

A low-tax economy cannot possibly cope with unlimited demands from various pressure groups. Our counterparts in Sweden, for example, pay income tax at rates varying between 28.89 per cent to 59.09 per cent If we are to avoid cuts, perhaps, the Government needs to consider raising our current income tax rates of 20 per cent and 41 per cent.

Yet such a scenario were to be seriously considered by the Government, I suspect that this week's angry protests by pensioners and students would seem like a carnival compared with the reaction of Irish taxpayers. - Yours, etc,



Dublin 8.

Madam, - The Irish Society for Archives is glad to support Prof Donnchadh Ó Corráin's objections to the proposed merger of the National Library, the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission (October 20th). Such a merger could achieve no significant economies since all three bodies are already under-resourced - especially the National Archives, which has been so seriously neglected that it is barely able to discharge its statutory responsibilities.

Moreover, the functions of the National Library and the National Archives are fundamentally different and the failure of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, which is charged with responsibility for these institutions, to understand this is profoundly worrying.

The national archives are not financial assets but form part of the cultural infrastructure of this country. They do not belong to the civil service or to the government of the day, but to the people of Ireland and by extension to the Irish diaspora worldwide. It is our responsibility to transmit these national treasures intact to the next generation.

In good times, this means investment in buildings, staff and public service; in bad times, it means consolidating such gains as have been effected and preserving a public service. As a nation, we have already destroyed the national archives once, resulting in the acute cultural impoverishment of our own people and of the many visitors who come to Ireland in search of their identity.

Every single day an Irish archivist has to utter the dreadful words: "I'm sorry, these records were blown up when the Public Record Office of Ireland was destroyed during the Civil War in 1922." The National Archives Act 1986 was designed to save the collections which remained, and it is instructive to note that it was passed, and a new building provided, at the height of the last recession.

We urge careful reconsideration of the proposals to merge these institutions in the pursuit of an illusory short-term gain. We urge the adoption of a longer-term perspective which recognises the unique place of the National Archives in the cultural life of the nation. - Yours, etc,



Irish Society for Archives,

RCB Library,

Braemor Park,

Dublin 14.

Madam, - Can we assume Fine Gael has had a Pauline conversion, now believes in universal health coverage and will no longer support a two-tier health system?

Or is it be two much to ask that our politicians argue out of belief, rather than hypocrisy and opportunism? - Yours, etc,



Co Wexford.