Colette Brown – I do not know this lady but she likes to hit the nail with the hammer and not her own fingers.

It’s not our fault, but we’re paying a heavy price for their economic mess

By Colette Browne

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

YOU’RE not responsible for the crisis — but you’re sure as hell going
to pay for it, is probably the most succinct way to summarise the
Taoiseach’s hotly anticipated state of the nation address.

In fact, in drafting his speech, Mr Kenny seems to have cut a few
corners. Namely, studying the late Brian Lenihan’s previous budget
speeches and then announcing the exact opposite — so, we haven’t
turned a corner, there was no party, we’re not all to blame and the
worst isn’t over.

It wasn’t so much a message of hope as, well, the exact opposite — a
bald admission that the country is banjaxed and likely to remain so
for the foreseeable. But, don’t worry, he said, we’re all in the mire
together. Although the stink of manure is far more pronounced from
some.

Disproving the truism that things can always get better, Mr Kenny
warned us that without these latest budgetary cuts, the economic
situation could get far worse and, in an effort to rally the troops,
the Government is leading by example.

“Before asking families to make sacrifices, we also insisted on
sacrifices from those at the top,” he said.

Strange then, that the Mail on Sunday this week revealed that Mr Kenny
had personally intervened to secure his close friend, and former
adviser, a €34,000 pay hike against the wishes of two of his cabinet
ministers.

In a series of email exchanges, the case for Ciarán Conlon’s salary
eclipsing Mr Kenny’s own guidelines was made, considered and
ultimately politely rejected by the department of finance. Mr Conlon,
touted as being so uniquely clever that he deserves his bumper salary,
then acted decidedly stupidly by sending an intemperate email to the
department complaining that the delay in authorising his pay increase
was “ridiculous” because it had already “been passed at the very
highest level in government buildings”.

Not to be outdone in the stupid stakes, Mr Kenny’s personal secretary
then emailed the department and made clear, in no uncertain terms,
that the Taoiseach wanted this man to get his money. Every single
cent. Speaking on Morning Ireland on Monday, Agriculture Minister
Simon Coveney wearily explained that some brains burn so bright that
the Government has to spend big bucks to bask in their reflected glow.

He said that there are many people in the private sector “earning many
multiples’ of the paltry amount, €127,000, being offered to Mr Conlon
and that the government has to occasionally breach its own pay
guidelines if it wants to get “the best people and the best advice”.

We’re doing this for you, you ingrates, was the subtext for listeners.
You’ll likely remember this argument as it was the same one employed
when we all scratched our heads and wondered why the dolts who ran the
banks into the ground were still getting rock star salaries after the
same bankrupt banks were bailed out to the tune of over €70bn. Like
much government policy, Mr Coveney’s argument didn’t stand up to much
scrutiny as it was immediately revealed that Mr Conlon, instead of
working for the private sector, was actually employed by Fine Gael
before taking up his position. Continuing his party’s proud record in
boosting transparency and openness in government, the minister then
petulantly refused to be drawn on Mr Conlon’s salary while he was a
Fine Gael employee.

Meanwhile, not averse to spending taxpayers’ money with wild abandon
himself, it was also revealed at the weekend that Mr Coveney spent
€6,700 on publicity shots of himself at the National Ploughing
Championships this year. Worst of all, the pictures, which show a
beaming minister clowning around in mucky wellies and donning a chef’s
hat to fry up some beef, don’t appear to be too flattering because his
department is now refusing to release them to the press. Asked if it
was, in retrospect, a tad unwise to take a personal team of paparazzi
photographers to an agricultural show in the midst of the worst
recession in the history of the state, a sheepish Mr Coveney conceded:
“On the face of it, that looks expensive.”

I mean, who could possibly have guessed that spending €6,700 on
pictures of the minister merrily prancing around in fields next to
bulls and dung would blow up so spectacularly in his face? Certainly
not the well-paid personal adviser who likely organised the entire
fiasco on the minister’s behalf but I suppose we should all feel
assured by his terse promise to “look into it”.

Back to Mr Kenny’s stirring speech on Sunday and he insisted “over the
last months we have made a start, towards more jobs, towards more
opportunities, towards renewed confidence” — a line reminiscent of
cartoon egomaniac Buzz Lightyear and his catchphrase, “to infinity and
beyond”.

Well, to be fair, Kenny’s own party members have certainly had more
jobs and opportunities in the last number of months, as Mr Conlon will
attest to, but out here in the real world, where most of us
unfortunately reside, the unemployment rate is inexorably increasing,
emigration is skyrocketing and new jobs are as scarce as fulfilled
pre-election promises. In fact, economist Michael Taft has pointed out
that this latest budget will actually cost up to 20,000 jobs and has
labelled it a “jobs destruction budget”.

BACK in la la land, otherwise known as the Department of Finance, and
the latest figures they’ve released claim that income tax receipts
will surge by 10% next year — despite the fact that this year’s tax
figures are down on forecasts and the ESRI’s latest scarifying report
warns that employment will stagnate next year.

Where, exactly, is this magical money supposed to come from? Is Bertie
going to give officials some tips in advance of the next big horse
racing event? Regretfully for the Taoiseach, simply repeating the
words “prosperity”, “jobs”, and “recovery” ad nauseam won’t actually
make any of these things happen.

Meanwhile, in a sure sign the lunatics are running the asylum,
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly has pointed out that the €1.25bn this
impoverished country plans handing over to unguaranteed Anglo
bondholders in January almost exactly equates to the total amount of
spending cuts in this week’s budget — like the cut to elderly people’s
fuel allowance and the slashing of disability benefit by 46% for young
people.

The excellent namawinelake blog has also noted that the €720m that
will be raised from the new €100 household charge, in the four years
between 2012 and 2015, is slightly less than the amount that was
blithely borrowed and dutifully handed over to more professional
gamblers last month. When, one wonders, is someone going to shout
stop? This is a question that was posed by a former chief economist
with the IMF in an interview in the New York Times on Monday.

“The eurozone is entering a very serious slump, and it is not certain
the euro will survive in its current form. Why Ireland would want to
spend its time being a model student in the context of the broader
European mishandling of the situation, I don’t know,” said MIT
professor Simon Johnson.

Why indeed.

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