He may literally be a neighbour’s child but that wasn’t going to guarantee any plaudits for Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe when he stood up to deliver his budget speech just as a group of pensioners sat down to lunch in Elphin, Co Roscommon on Tuesday.
Long before the Minister rose to his feet, his well-flagged budget had been heavily parsed and analysed by some of the regulars at the Elphin Day Centre, who mentioned as an afterthought that his late mother Caitlin had been a Cunniffe from nearby Ballinagare.
Some of those who went to school with Mrs Donohoe and who indeed remembered the Minister visiting his relatives when he was still in short trousers were much more interested in how he was going to alleviate their concerns about heating their homes and keeping their cars on the road over the coming winter.
Teresa Cullinan (84), who reckons the Minister for Finance seems “like a nice man” and is obviously “very bright”, was blunt when asked what she thought about the €12 increase in her pension.
“Not worth a damn,” she said to a chorus of approval from her peers, who seemed as worried about the threat of power outages as they were about soaring bills.
Teresa and her friend Maura McDermott from Frenchpark said they would feel very vulnerable in their homes if there were power cuts. “A light is a great comfort. I leave a light on all night,” said Teresa.
Maura, who joked that they would all be spending more time in neighbours’ houses in the coming months to cut down on heating bills, agreed that she worried about people who would “take advantage” if there were power cuts.
There was a lot of laughter as the friends caught up in the centre where they meet a few days a week to have lunch, play cards and share local news but there was also anxiety.
Pat McGrath (73) from Ballinagare said that for people who lived alone, there was a worry about being cut off from the rest of the world if there were interruptions to power supplies.
“I have two sons abroad and I wouldn’t be able to keep in contact with them if I have no internet,” he pointed out.
The retired farmer was disgusted to read recently about the profits the ESB had made this year. “I think it is disgraceful they have announced such huge profits and yet they are fleecing everybody. The Government should have some control over the service providers.”
Because they knew so much about the budget in advance, the friends and neighbours barely looked up from their lunch of roast chicken, mashed potatoes and veg, as each provision was announced.
Anthony Donnelly (88) pointed out that last winter there had been a lot of talk about people “staying in bed half the day” because of the cost of heating. Even with €600 in electricity credits, he believes “it will probably be even worse this winter”.
Tommy Higgins from Ballinagare, who went to school with the Minister’s mother, doesn’t drive a car but he does have a tractor and, as a retired farmer, said many in that sector were struggling. “The price of fertiliser has doubled since last year,” he said.
Pat McGrath does have a car and would be “lost without it” but with the cost of taxing, insuring and keeping it running, an increasing burden, he was taking measures to cut down on his driving. “I find myself getting extra bread and milk now and putting it in the freezer,” he explained. “Otherwise I would be running in and out to Frenchpark and wasting more diesel in the car.”
Many said they worried more for their children and grandchildren than for themselves at this stage.
“I think we have a lot to be thankful for. I have all I need,” said Teresa Duffy.
“We are all afraid this Russia might release the nuclear bomb and we will be all gone then”, said Pat McGrath.
Maura McDermott agreed.
“I do worry about what [Putin] will do and the uncertainty of it all. It is not just the worry about the cost of a loaf.”