Reactions to Budget 2009

Mon, Oct 20, 2008, 01:00

Madam, - I protest strenuously at the ill-judged and impractical proposal of the Minister for Finance to merge the National Library, the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission as a so-called economy measure. This must not happen.

The library and archives are not quangos, but venerable anchor institutions of Irish culture that trace their origins back to the 18th century - to 1702 in the case of the National Archives. Since Independence, the Irish State has spent only derisory sums of money on them.

Currently, the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in Belfast, founded in 1923, is much better capitalised and has more than twice the staff of the National Archives in Dublin, which lacks (and has always lacked) the appropriate buildings, the space, and enough trained staff to do its duties properly.

As I write, foreign affairs documents much sought by modern historians are being sent into external storage for lack of room. By contrast, in Belfast, PRONI's spanking modern archives repository is being built at a cost of £30 million.

The case of the National Library is much the same. In 1921 it was equal in funding and holdings to the National Library of Wales and the National Library of Scotland. How does it stand now? The difference in funding is even more dramatic than the difference in holdings. The National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth has 5 million volumes, 30,000 manuscripts and 3.5 million deeds. The National Library of Scotland has 13 million volumes.

But the National Library of the Irish people, who have made a far greater contribution to world literature, medieval and modern, in three or more languages, has just a little over a million volumes (if that) — comparable to size to the national libraries of Albania and Algeria and less than half the size of those of Portugal, Slovakia, Venezuela and Cuba. Is that not shame enough in a country that until recently boasted extravagantly and in bad taste of its wealth?

Does the National Library need more cutbacks after 87 years of deplorable government neglect? Merging national libraries and national archives is not done, in Europe or elsewhere. Even tiny countries such as Iceland, Cyprus, the Faroes, and Ivory Coast keep them apart. The same is true of Eastern Europe and the Third World — for example, Chile, Colombia, Mongolia, Peru, Democratic Republic of Congo, even war-torn Iraq. Here we must follow best international practice.

The Irish Manuscripts Commission, founded in 1928 in response to the deliberate destruction of the Irish Public Record Office in 1922, has served Ireland remarkably well and at little cost in seeking out and editing the sources of Irish history. It has published more than 140 titles (some multi-volume) and 40 volumes of Analecta Hibernica, a scholarly journal of high international standing. It owns no premises, its members and authors give their services free, and its paid staff is a part-time secretary.

Is this a quango? Can its meagre budget be trimmed? Even in the desolate 1950s nobody in government cut it back or thought it should be merged, on grounds of economy, with some other body, for there is nothing to save.

Merging these three institutions will save no money: there is none to spare, if we intend to have national institutions of learning as do all but the very poorest states. This plan will add a new and costly layer of administration, incur serious legal expenses, mix like with unlike, cause institutional and personal conflict, distract meagre staff from their work; and in the end the State will pay more for less. - Yours, etc,

DONNCHADH Ó CORRÁIN, Professor Emeritus, University College Cork.

Madam, - The name of Ernest Blythe is recalled because he lowered the old age pension. John Bruton is remembered for having proposed a tax on children's shoes. Brian Lenihan and his 2008 Budget will be remembered in a similar vein.

The fundamental difference between Mr Lenihan and those two Fine Gael politicians is that when Fianna Fáil politicians impose unpalatable and punitive measures on the population they package them in patriotic language. Hence Mr Lenihan's assertion that this Budget was "a call to patriotic action".

Coming on the back of the extremely generous bailout of the banks, the Budget continues this Government's policy of wealth redistribution. However the form of wealth redistribution which it practices is that of taking wealth from the majority of the population and redistributing it among its banker and developer friends who crowded into the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Races. The restriction on the medical card for the over-70s is yet another example of this policy.

This Budget also effectively spells the end of the doomed decentralisation programme which was the brainchild of Charlie McCreevy and was later implemented by Tom Parlon. To be fair, both these men practised what they preached.

Mr McCreevy decentralised himself from Ireland to an extremely well-paid job as an EU Commissioner in Brussels, while Mr Parlon reinvented himself yet again by decentralising himself to the amply rewarded position of director general of the Construction Industry Federation. - Yours, etc,

DAVID DOYLE, Gilford Park, Sandymount, Dublin 4.

Madam, - As the owner of a small business which began trading only this year, I read with interest the Government's claim that it is helping the likes of ourselves by introducing an exemption from corporation tax and capital gains tax for the first three years.

The reality is that in any economic climate, never mind the present, the prospect of a new business making a profit in the first three years is fairly remote. My suggestion is that as the Government now has such a say in the affairs of the banks, it should facilitate finance at a preferential rate, combined with a reduction in PRSI and local rates.

We are in the fortunate position of looking to expand, but these will be the limiting factors for us, combined with the fact that we must also absorb Mr Lenihan's 0.5 per cent increase in VAT.

To compensate for these concessions, we would suggest paying a higher corporate and capital gains tax in the first three years. - Yours, etc,

JOHN HANNON Perlacasa Tiles and Bathrooms, Ennis Road, Limerick.