Posts Tagged ‘Brian Lenihan

08
Apr
09

The Unemployed Budget

Like everyone else, I was paying strict attention to the telly yesterday to see how we’d be affected by the budget. This was a funny one for the unemployed, as there was the possibility that Lenihan would listen to the likes of Goodbody Stockbrokers and actually cut social welfare payments to those of us on the dole (a line elegantly countered by Fintan O’Toole in yesterday’s IT). I recall a few articles in newspapers in the last few weeks that sought to highlight the burden each individual dole recipient places on the state, which read to me like the kind of line journalists pick up from PR people who are trying to condition public opinion. I got a real sense that we were being braced for something shocking.

So, people on social welfare might be tempted to breathe a sign of relief, as on the face of it at least we seem to have gotten away with it. After the medical card blunder of last “real” budget, Brian was a lot more nervous about been seen to attack social welfare recipients. There are no major cuts in social welfare, according to the three broadsheets this morning. This of course isn’t the full story, but more on that later. The most notable cut was the abolition of the double payment at Christmas time. This has lead to witty comparisons to Ebenezer Scrooge, but frankly, I find it hard to justify a difficulty with this. I for one was not entitled to the bonus last Christmas and I don’t think I would have been this year either, and I was expected to just get on with this. Of course it’s very easy for me to say this, considering I’m a singleton who doesn’t have to worry about paying for a family Christmas. And considering the as yet undisclosed impositions that are to be place on the children’s allowance, the oncoming holidays are sure to be a difficult one for families on social welfare. To this I can only say it was always going to hurt.

Far more unforgivable, in my opinion, is the halving of dole payments for people under 20 years of age, an incentive Brian says for people to take up training. This is a basic display of ageism in that it assumes universal parental support for young people, which is not always the case. Will extra Fas and PLC places be provided for every person under 20 on the dole? I very much think not. As far as I can see, the pain this will cause does not justify the money that’s likely to be saved, which according to the Irish Independent will be €300 million.

Also unfair is the cut in rent allowance. It’s not so much the cut that’s the problem but the reasoning for it. According to Lenihan’s speech this is merely in tune with the drop in rent prices, a remark quite similar to Goodbody’s Marie Antoinette-esque belief that a cut in social welfare is justified due to a drop in inflation. This supposed that those on social welfare noticed an corresponding drop in their expenses, conveniently forgetting that the inflation drop was fuelled by a general consumer race to the bottom. For people already at the bottom there is nowhere else to go. Well, the same is true for Brian and his perception of rent prices. Suzy has gone into more detail on this here.

Apart from cuts, there was another reason unemployed people were paying attention to this budget. We wanted to see what was being done to create jobs. I’m going to leave this for people more qualified than I to discuss in detail. However, I will say it seem there was precious little announced in this regard as far as I can tell. I suppose such measures were never a consideration for this “mini” budget. Nobody of course ever believed there would be anything about this budget that could be described as “mini”. The Indo had it right today with a supplement entitled “Crisis Budget”. It was just about plugging the hole in the public finances that FF created for themselves. Creating jobs will have to wait for another day.

01
Mar
09

Da speech

There were a couple of things I noticed while watching Brian Cowan’s Ardfheis speech yesterday, and chief among these was the crowd. These were the party faithful, who I always thought of as ‘true believers’, and so as expected the clapped and cheered when the were supposed to clap and cheer. Yet there was a sense that they didn’t want to be there. They all, every one of them, looked miserable. The closest thing to a smile was on Dick Roche’s face when the second Lisbon treaty referendum was referred to, and even this was soured by Cowan’s typically patronising manner. With talk of having the “courage to take our place at the heart of this larger, more vibrant Europe”, it was as if he was saying We’ve gotten you a second chance at this thing. Don’t fuck it up again.

Of course a level of dejection was to be expected, especially from the counsellors who had been invited on stage. They’ll most likely find themselves out of work after the local elections in the summer. The morning’s opinion poll must have been a depressing read for any Fianna Fáiller. Still, the most that can be said about the Indo’s poll was that it confirmed what everyone already knew. There was in my opinion little reason for them to be as shocked as they appeared to be. I mean, Coughlan looked like something out of a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, all dolled up and fabulously dressed yet positively dead on the inside.

I have my own theory on this. What’s upsetting the true believers is not that they’re unpopular, but that there’s a general recognition that the broke their promise to us. During the last general election opinion polls were again unfavourable to Fianna Fáil. Of course the intense coverage of Bertie’s finances probably the greatest influencing factor on this, but there also was a general feeling that under the party public service were failing us. The health service was a shambles and justice system merely a school for criminality. The FF response to this was enforced frankness. Yes, services are bad, but if we are to have a hope of fixing these we need a strong economy to build on. Cowan himself said as much on a Questions & Answers appearance. The implication clearly was that only Fianna Fáil could be trusted with the economy.

It worked. They were returned to power. And only now to we realise that not only were they about to let the good times end, but that the whole that thing was based on unsustainable markets and false wealth to begin with. There were in the speech several timid references to the global recession, just to remind us that we should place our problems in this context. Yet there was no attempt, ala Gordon Brown, to directly blame our recession on an international economic downturn. They know we created this recession on our own, and that happened on their watch.

Even the strengths of the speech mocked them for their failures. The only thing that might be considered ‘meat’ to the speech was a promise to renew the regulation of banks.

I will create a new Central Banking Commission. This will incorporate both the responsibilities of the Central Bank and the supervision and regulatory functions of the Financial Regulator. This will build on best international practice similar to the Canadian model.

I can just imagine him writing that, face scruched up as the thought Must hammer in a reference to the Canadian model. Doesn’t matter where, just as long as it’s in the same paragraph to banking reform. The problem here is that, with the arguable exception of a promise to cap the salaries of Bank Chief Executives receiving government aid (which received the only applause of the night that could be described as rapturous), he said nothing that shouldn’t have been already in place. The Central Bank doesn’t need more structures in order to do its job, it just needs to do it. And avoid, say, repeating the from Anglo lawyers that Seanie Fitz acted improperly and immorally but not illegally (Come to think of it, that was probably what was eating Coughlan. If proof was needed that she’s out of her depth, then stating on national television that the Government was at most “disappointed” over the Anglo Irish Bank affair while repeating the not illegal mantra was surely it).

Anyway, prior to the speech there was much talk on what Brian needed to say to restore confidence in his party. I realise it’s far too late now, but I’d like to chime in on this. If he wanted someone like me, one of the non-mere statistics without a job, to get behind him, he should have put his hand up. He needed to say this:

Yes, we fucked up. We wasted public money in the good times and squandered the opportunity to fix service that weren’t working. We allowed a culture of blind faith in the banking industry to develop because we were distracted, as were you all, by how rich this made us feel. We now know what these mistakes were, and we know how to fix them.

Of course we were never going to hear this. It would have taken true strength and bravery and nobody in Dáil Éireann, including the opposition benches, has ever been able to convey this sense of leadership.

18
Feb
09

Dermot O’Leary can go fuck himself

I was interviewed yesterday on the lunchtime show on 102-104FM regarding this blog, where I accidentally proclaimed that I’m joining the Socialist Party. I’m not. I don’t have a problem with Joe Higgins and co (in fact, Clare Daly has helped me out with a couple of pieces I’ve done in the past), but I’m not a socialist. I am, despite my present condition, a believer in the Capitalist model, just as long as it’s even slightly regulated. The reason for my unintended commitment to Marxism was that I was thrown by the question (enquiring if I might enter politics to see if I can do a better job than the current shower), and I suddenly recalled sentiments I expressed earlier in the day as I read the papers and began to suspect the socialists are right.

Economists with Goodbody stockbrokers are warning that the economy will shrink by 6% this year, and in response the government should cut social welfare payments (which seems like a good opportunity to recall my opinion on economists. For all that people like O’Leary know, we’re better off investing in an online casino than following their advice). Naturally, I was pissed. It’s not that I’m concerned with my own pocket, at least not primarily. The issue I have with this is the signal it sends out, and what it says about the capitalist’s thinking in this crisis.

Earlier this month the government faced anger (and will probably go on to face strike action) from lower civil servants over their cost-cutting pension levy plan. In practise (and it seems Lenihan didn’t quite realise this) the higher-paid civil servants will be less affected by the levy than the rank-and-file. The burden for fixing this recession is placed squarely on the lower-paid worker. And now, in the report titled A Rocky Road Ahead by Goodbody economists Dermot O’Leary and Deirdre Ryan, the idea is to cut support for those most affected by the recession by reducing dole payments by at least 3% (as well as cutting grants for students, which again are offered to those from low-income families).

The article that covered this in yesterday’s Daily Mirror highlighted that every 1,000 on the dole cost the state €11 million. This to me sounds awfully like the repeated language used in the media last year to highlight what a burden on the taxpayer the civil service is. It conveniently pastes over the fact that the unemployed, as with the civil service, are not the ones responsible for the recession. They are, in fact, the victims of it.

And what do we do with those who are responsible? Well, they get €7 billion bailouts, legislation guaranteeing deposits, and – if they really screw up – nationalisation. All necessary, perhaps, but it does kinda suggest Marx was right.

As for the suggestion by Dermot O’Leary that unemployed people wouldn’t lose out due to a general fall in prices, people are losing out as it is. I know many people (myself included) who are being kicked out of their homes because the can’t meet mortgage and rent costs. To tell these people that they can save 5% on a bag of carrots is highly insulting.

Anyway, I want to thank 102-104FM for their interest in this blog and what I’m trying to do here. I’m still not quite sure what it is that I’m trying to do here, but I appreciate the support.

12
Feb
09

Is Brian fixing the economy with sparknotes?

A thought occurs to me. How embarrassed are Fianna Fáil voters feeling these days? I mean, they won the last election largely because they were seen as the best stewards of a successful economy. I recalled an episode of Questions & Answers where Brian Cowen (then finance minister) displaying a smarmy, sarcastic attitude that seemed to suggest, “If you really trust Fine Gael with the economy we built go right ahead and vote for them,” which of course was largely their campaign message. I watched several vox-pop segments where people said they were pissed off about the miserable public service in this country but they were still voting Fianna Fáil because they didn’t want to “rock the boat” (it’s a shame that boat turned out to be the Titanic).

I ask this because Brian Lenihan yesterday achieved something I’d previously thought impossible by continuing to astound us with his government’s incompetence. A report commissioned by the minister stated that the bank he was in the process of nationalising had been hiding its financial problems with loans from other banks, and he DIDN’T FUCKING READ IT. It would be hilarious, if not so bloody infuriating.

Anyway, a FF backbencher (I don’t remember which one) was on Vincent Browne’s show last night suggesting that when judging this government’s performance one must consider it in a global context. The problems with the Irish economy simply reflect the problems happening the world over, he claimed. Cowen suggested something similar on Marion Finucane’s radio show last weekend when he said our problems have been fuelled by the collapse of international markets for Irish goods. Sorry, Biffo, but that’s not good enough. There was no international market for Irish houses. Our problems, which are exceptional even in the current international climate, came about because our economy was completely dependent on a grossly inflated housing market that the government had to know couldn’t sustain itself. That and the complete inability to regulate institutions lending money to people who clearly couldn’t pay it back.

Of course I don’t buy the “I never read it” excuse. It’s far too convenient, and amazingly similar to Barry Andrew’s handling of the Bishop of Cloynes case, or Michael Martin being unaware that the HSE were ripping off of pensioners in nursing homes because he was late for the meeting where it was discussed (god be with the days when a minister’s job could be questioned because somebody in the department forgot to post a letter). What seems to me to have happened here was that Lenihan was aware, at least to some degree, of what had been happening at Anglo Irish Bank, but didn’t react because he had no idea how to. Much of our government’s incompetence is borne from ten years of a policy of ignoring problems in the hope that they would go away. After all, it worked fine until now.

The more I think about it the more I feel my future lies outside this country. I’d hate to leave, and I realise every country is feeling a crisis on the jobs front, but for the sake of my sanity I’m becoming increasingly convinced that I must live in a real country, with a government that offer even the slightest indication that they have some grasp of the problems they face.