Saturday, July 4, 2015
Fr Sean Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland, which has published a pre-budget submission based on a fair and sustainable future.
THERE are small mercies for which to be grateful. The fate of this country could have mirrored that of Greece. However bad things were here — and continue to be for some people — at least we avoided the panic and desperation notable in dispatches from the ancient civilisation.
Back here, the worst of the night has passed. The biggest threat to recovery is external, factors over which this country has no control. Internally, a new day is dawning, although the light has not touched many yet.
But what kind of country will it be? The appearance at the banking inquiry, during the week, of former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, and of former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, provided a scoot back to the future, and the kind of society we had in the years prior to the great fall.
Both men defended their respective roles in shaping a country in which practically everybody benefitted from a transient building boom. Some did far better than others, but few corners of society went untouched by the illusory prosperity. Cowen was asked about the huge increases in public spending during his tenure as minister for finance, and he replied that he was intent on ensuring that everybody benefited.
“I stand over my decisions,” he said. “How long would we wait to give an old-age pensioner a few more bob… it was about spreading the benefits of prosperity to more people.” Few would disagree with the sentiment, but the values employed in spreading the fruits of prosperity receive little attention. It was trickle-down economics. Those at the top were regarded as ‘wealth creators’, even though a fair share of their wealth was created with the assistance of the State.
The thrust of economic policy was to cut taxes to disproportionately benefit those at the top. The money generated from the crazy building boom was then spread around.
As a value system, it regarded those most vulnerable in society as potential benefactors of the ‘wealth creator’, rather than citizens entitled to a decent standard of living.
Have things changed? After all that has gone down, after the disproportionate pain inflicted on those least able to bear it through the years of correction and austerity, has anything really changed?
All the indications are that the forthcoming general election will also be a scoot back to the future. All parties are going to lay out plans that have precious little to do with shaping society into the future. The thrust will be to convince a good chunk of voters that their most immediate and tangible benefit will be to vote for one party or individual.
Tax cuts will lead the way. Fine Gael is promising more tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the better-off. Fianna Fáil and Labour will also put big emphasis into showing that a vote for them will mean an immediate pay-back in people’s pockets. Sinn Fein is going one further. Last October, the party confirmed that the first item on its agenda, if it enters government, is the scrapping of the water charge and of the property tax. This is sure to hoover up some votes, and put the country back on a course of a narrow tax base that exposes the possibility of huge cutbacks when the economy hits any kind of a bump.
As a strategy, cutting taxes worked a treat for Fianna Fáil over three general elections, to such an extent that by the 2007 election all the other parties were on board.
Now that money is again becoming available, it’s the route that is to be travelled once more. It matters not, contrary to what’s put about, that this is not a high-tax economy. In fact, we have below the European average tax take, as a percentage of GDP.
Is there any chance that one of the parties might decide to mount a campaign based on values, rather than the best way to hoover votes?
During the week, glimpses into corners of Irish society said something about the values that prevail.
The Minster for Health, Leo Varadkar, admitted that the system was underfunded.
He considers that an extra €1bn is required to have a functioning health system. “Some questions remain,” he wrote in the Irish Times. “Such as whether we are willing, as a society, to pay for it, and whether we are willing to embrace the major organisational changes required.” Should that not be a priority?
On Tuesday, a report into the system of direct provision for asylum seekers was published.
Changes are recommended that might treat asylum seekers as human beings, rather than as cattle. The cost of the recommendation would be €135.4m over five years, although savings of €195m could be made on legal costs, if processing is speeded up. Even without the savings, the annual cost is €37m, hardly a king’s ransom for treating human beings with base dignity.
“We have a moral obligation, now, to move from the publication to implementation,” junior minister, Aodhan O’Riordain, said. Of course we do, but will resources that might otherwise go towards tax cuts be used in this manner?
It also emerged during the week that only 12% of rental properties are available within State rental-payment caps. A Simon Community study showed that most of those who are entitled to a payment simply cannot afford to rent a home.
“People who are homeless, or on the very edge of homelessness, currently have no hope of accessing the housing they need,” said a Simon spokeswoman. Will that issue receive due prominence in a general election that will be flagged as shaping the country into the future?
Writing in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, Fr Sean Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland, asked a few cogent questions.
“What kind of future do we want for Ireland? What level of services should we aspire to, in areas such as education and health? What level of infrastructure is required, in areas such as public transport and social housing?
“How much of Ireland’s services and infrastructure should be provided by the State?” His organisation has published a pre-budget submission based on a fair and sustainable future. Will anybody running for office pay attention? Are we doomed to go back to the future, with all that it entails?
If ever there was a time when a country should be assessing where exactly it is going, surely it is now, as the dawn lifts after a dark and dank seven years. Everybody would like to pay less tax, but the question that must be asked is at what cost. Who’s afraid to talk about these things right now?
Banks don't do Carlsberg. If the did, they would be charging three different prices for a pint of lager.
There would be the tracker pint charge of €1.
Then there would be the brand new customer charge of €3, for those who are being encouraged into the bar for the first time. But those who have been swigging away for a few hours in the pub would find that they were being charged up to €6 for a pint.
Luckily for drinkers, lenders do not do beer.
But, as we know to our cost, they don't do fair either when it comes to mortgage customers.
What they do is act like an unscrupulous publican exploiting a drunk customer by overcharging them.
Most banks have failed to reduce their variable rates.
The six main lenders will argue that in the meetings they had with Finance Minister Michael Noonan it was agreed that they could cut variable rates, or offer existing customers lower fixed rates.
Most have offered something to existing customers, such as better fixed rates or letting them avail of Loan-To-Value (LTV) rates which are better value.
However, so complicated has it become you might think you are drunk trying to work out who is offering what rate now to existing customers.
The latest attempt to confuse the punter is the LTV rate. This is a mortgage interest rate based on the amount you have yet to repay on the mortgage relative to the value of the property. The lower the amount left to pay on the mortgage, compared with the property's value, the lower the rate you get.
These LTV rates and the other tweaks will only benefit those who have built up equity in their homes. If you are in negative equity there is little on offer for you.
That is why the demand from the start was for a straight cut to variable rates.
But some banks, such as KBC, are still giving better value to brand new customers.
What Mr Noonan has been offered by the banks is little more than tinkering. The banks have called his bluff.
He now needs to carry out his threat to give powers to the Central Bank to cap rates.
At the very least, such powers should mean that banks are stopped by the Central Bank from charging different rates to new and existing variable-rate customers.
Banks don't do morals, and they put their own interests before those of their customers, so legislation is the only solution to bring them to heel.
Otherwise, the nation's hangover from the collapse of the banking sector, and its rescue by taxpayers, will never end.
Friday, July 3, 2015
The US private equity firm behind the purchase of a multi-billion euro loan portfolio from the National Assets Management Agency has said “no improper or illegal fees were paid” by it or on its behalf.
Cerberus Capital Management said it was “deeply troubled” by allegations made by Independent TD Mick Wallace in the Dáil on Thursday.
During leaders’ questions, Mr Wallace expressed concern about the Nama sale of the Northern Ireland loan portfolio, Project Eagle, which involved more than 850 properties. He said the portfolio, with a par value of €4.5 billion, was sold to Cerberus for less than €1.5 billion. He described it as the “largest ever sale of property in the history of the island of Ireland”.
Mr Wallace also told the Dáil that a routine audit of a Belfast-based legal firm Tughans involved in the Project Eagle sale had shown up £7 million in an Isle of Man account, “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party”.
Cerberus said in a statement on Friday: “We are deeply troubled by Mr Wallace’s allegations and we want to make it clear that no improper or illegal fees were paid by us or on our behalf and we take any allegation to the contrary extremely seriously.”
Earlier, the North’s deputy first Minister Martin McGuinness called for an immediate and full police investigation into the allegations. In a statement, Mr McGuinness said: “These claims are very serious and must be thoroughly investigated.
“That investigation needs to begin immediately and I would encourage Mick Wallace to speak to An Garda Síochána and the PSNI as a matter of urgency.
“It is absolutely clear that these serious allegations made on the floor of Leinster House need to be subjected to rigorous and full investigation.”
On Thursday, Tánaiste Joan Burton said Mr Wallace should go to the gardaí, to the board of Nama and to the Comptroller and Auditor General if what he described as “disturbing allegations” were true.
The Wexford TD, who has repeatedly called for an inquiry into the operations of Nama, said that following consultation in June 2012 with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and his then Northern counterpart Sammy Wilson, the agency reappointed Frank Cushnahan and Brian Rowntree to its Northern Ireland advisory committee.
Mr Wallace said that two weeks later, a report from the Northern Ireland auditor’s office into the North’s Housing Executive led to the resignation of both Mr Cushnahan and Mr Rowntree.
The report found guideline breaches in the sale of at least 27 land deals, the executive board being given wrong or no information relating to key property deals, favoured property speculators were allowed to buy land well under market value and interest from other parties not being considered.
Mr Wallace said that despite the report, the two men remained in Nama, one of them until 2014.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett intervened to remind him that it was not practice to name people who were not in the House to defence themselves. He said “this is not an inquisition”.
Mr Wallace also told the Dáil that a routine audit of a Belfast-based legal firm Tughans involved in the Project Eagle sale had shown up £7 million in an Isle of Man account, “reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician or political party”. Mr Barrett intervened again and said Mr Wallace should give all those details to the Garda Síochána.
The Wexford TD said that in 2009, Ms Burton favoured an oversight committee for Nama and he asked if she would bring the idea forward again. Ms Burton said she was not familiar with the case he mentioned.
She reiterated that the Comptroller & Auditor General had a very specific role in relation to the oversight of Nama and had produced three reports on the agency, which were “broadly positive”.
She said it was regrettable that Nama ever had to exist but it was very difficult to give a definitive answer on the recovery value of anything which lost its value after the crash. Ms Burton told Mr Wallace: “If what you’re saying is correct, you should go to the gardaí, to the board of Nama and to the C&AG.”
Belfast firm responds to claims
In response to Mick Wallace’s claims in the Dáil, Belfast-based legal firm Tughans said they can confirm that “a former partner diverted to an account of which he was the sole beneficiary professional fees due to the firm without the knowledge of the partners. We have since retrieved the money and he has left the practice.
“Tughans reported the circumstances of the departure of the former partner to the Law Society. The practice is not linked to any political party nor has it ever made party political donations”.
Nama said the sale of its Project Eagle loan portfolio achieved the best price for the Irish taxpayer and involved a competitive bidding process won by the highest bidder.
Colm Kenna and Marie O Halloran
It’s clear to anyone of sound mind that the Irish police force has become corrupt and unaccountable. What may have started as a fairly trivial investigation into the systemic erosion of penalty points has underpinned what many have believed for some time now, the Gardaí are above the laws they purport to uphold. Here is a brief summary of the important, inter-linked issues to date.
Penalty Points – The Gardaí have been wiping people’s penalty points from their licenses as personal favours on an enormous scale. At first glance, a typically Irish brand of parochial corruption but the story goes much deeper.
War on Whistleblowers – The mechanisms by which Gardaí can report wrongdoing within the force have proven to be a sham. Gardaí can supposedly approach the office of the Confidential Recipient, a subset of the Department of Justice, anonymously and blow the whistle on internal corruption. However the case is then referred to the Garda Commissioner to investigate so it can be a case of senior Gardaí investing senior Gardaí. The internal report into the penalty points found no evidence of corruption surprisingly enough, a report which didn't even interview the very whistleblowers who raised the issue in the first place. The Gardaí have a long record of harassing and frustrating the work of whistleblowers in the past including the two officers who revealed the penalty points scandal. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan described the actions of the whistleblowers as “disgusting”.
The Media – Irish Independent journalist Gemma O’Doherty who was investigating the penalty points corruption, was internally disciplined for calling to Garda Commisioner Martin Callinan’s house for comment, a fairly typical journalistic tactic. A few weeks later, she was offered a “voluntary redundancy” despite having been one of the paper’s top investigative reporters for over a decade. It subsequently emerged, though absolutely nowhere in the Irish media, that the Irish Independent’s editor in chief Stephen Rae, a former editor of the Garda Review magazine, had his penalty points wiped clean.
Cold Case –Father Niall Molloy was murdered in 1985 in an inheritance quarrel seemingly lifted from John B Keane's The Field. Evidence was contaminated, key witnesses were not interviewed and the Judge was a family friend of the accused. Where the Gardaí come in is intriguing. Martin Cahill, ‘The General’ and one of Ireland’s most infamous crimes bosses, stole files from the Director of Public Prosecution’s office, files that contained details of the case previously unknown to the public. Journalist Veronica Guerin then revealed some of Cahill’s information which exposed the pathetic Gardai investigation into the murder and the willingness of the DPP to cover it up.
So concerned were the Gardai with retrieving Cahill’s stolen files that, according to crime reporter Paul Williams, they cut a deal with him to drop charges against his associate John Traynor, one of the most notorious gangsters in Ireland. The Molloy case was reopened but despite the overwhelming amounts of evidence for a cover-up and at least mass negligence, nothing ever came of it. The journalist who took up the case and forced the State to reopen it? Gemma O’Doherty of the Irish Independent.
GSOC and Minister Alan Shatter – One of the whistleblowing Gardai involved in the penalty points case was told by the office of the Confidential Recipient that Minister Alan Shatter “will go after you” if he were to proceed with his complaints. In addition, GSOC, the Garda Ombudsman, discovered that its office had been bugged last year but did not approach Minister Shatter over the issue, clearly in fear or knowledge that he would not do anything about it. The Gardaí have denied bugging the office but the question of who else would bug the office of a body charged with supervising the state’s police force springs to mind.
Rather than address this essential question of who bugged GSOC, Minister Shatter has sought to downplay the event and even focus his criticism on the comparably insignificant matter of GSOC failing to inform him of this security breach at an earlier date.
Greg Mc Inerney
Brian Cowen's only sense of regret about overseeing the blowing and then bursting of a bubble is that he didn't have the benefit of hindsight.
Brian Cowen is sorry for your trouble. Definitely, maybe. For those who like to consider the Oireachtas banking inquiry as a forum to perform acts of contrition, the former taoiseach duly obliged.
“I’m sorry that the policies we felt necessary to put in place in responding to the national crisis brought with it hardship and distress to many people,” he said.
There were a few other expressions of regret in his opening remarks, but pretty soon it became obvious that the apology was qualified. He’s sorry that it was necessary to bail out the banks, but he doesn’t feel he has much to apologise for in his stewardship of the economy as minister for finance.
Yesterday was given over to parsing Cowen’s tenure in that role. Next week he will return to be questioned on his performance and decisions as taoiseach. What was most revealing yesterday was that he gave the impression of having few regrets about decisions, certainly prior to the general election of 2007.
There has long been a feeling abroad that as taoiseach, Cowen was haunted by the knowledge that had he acted differently when he was in the finance portfolio, the crash may not have been as loud or violent. Yesterday suggests otherwise.
He was robust, animated, and here and there he forgot momentarily that he was giving evidence to a committee rather than sparring across the floor of the House during Leaders’ Questions.
His only sense of regret about overseeing the blowing and then bursting of a bubble is that he didn’t have the benefit of hindsight at the time. From this vantage, picking through the rubble, he can see that if he knew then what he knows now, he may well have done things differently.
“I’m here to give my contemporary thinking,” he told Kieran O’Donnell, “not the benefit of hindsight.” In hindsight, he can now see that tax incentives for various construction schemes could have been terminated earlier, but he doesn’t see it as a major thing.
“There was no government in the democratic world which was budgeting at the time on the basis that we were going to have the biggest financial crisis in 2008.” And on it went, not so much excuse as explanation. While he wasn’t going to wear sackcloth and ashes for the day, he was willing to throw his hands up now and again in deference to wisdom after the event.
His narrative was similar to that laid out by Charlie McCreevy the previous day. Times were good, budgets were in surplus, everybody had a taste of more in their mouths. Absolutely nobody was advocating for a calming of the horses.
As far as the banks were concerned, it was all to do with the financial regulator. He was constantly being told there would be a soft landing. He didn’t know how bad things had got.
When Joe Higgins related to him a speech he made advocating for investment from financial services companies, he rejected a suggestion that he was doing the bidding of anybody.
“You’re setting me up as a sort of guy who’s promoting cowboys,” the witness said. At all times, he said, the public interest was what he worked for.
He was asked about the infamous Galway tent, where developers were wined and dined.
“I’ve read about that,” he said “Contracts being signed and that. If they were why would we bring the media in to sit down. It’s nonsense.”
One theme that he kept revisiting was that the country hadn’t long been at the top table of the nations of the world and required corresponding infrastructure, physical and social. This, he asserted, accounted for a large segment of the generous public spending during his time at finance.
“I was very much of the view that to build on the gains, we had to play catch-up,” he said.
“For the first time in the history of the State we had a rising population, there had been historic under investment and there was no doubt in my mind there was a need to ensure that the benefits of prosperity were spread around.”
It was an interesting defence of spending that was way ahead of inflation, and largely dependent on the boom getting boomier. To that end it’s another factor to throw into the mix along with the advent of the euro, cheap cedit and loss of control over interest rates which all contributed to the demented environment of the time.
While he didn’t look back in arrogance like McCreevy, he has retained the political instincts of a thorough bred partyman. McCreevy had no problem admitting that purse strings were loosened in the run-up to general elections, but when Cowen was invited to explain pumped up spending in a pre-election period he was not as forthcoming.
The second session concentrated on Cowen’s time in Finance after the 2007 general election.
Maybe it was the afternoon lull, but the witness appeared a relatively shrunken figure here, no longer squaring up to defend his record.
He was asked about the dinner he had with Anglo board members in April 2008, and about a call he took from Sean Fitzpatrick when he was abroad on the Paddy’s day jaunt a month earlier. Fitz was concerned about a huge fall in the bank’s share price and the emergence of Sean Quinn as a major, and potentially disastrous shareholder.
Cowen referred him to “the authorities”.
This is a period during which the apparatus of the State should have been put on high alert.
The previous September the British institution Northern Rock had gone to the wall. Chill winds of sub-prime rates were blowing across the Atlantic. The miracle shine was coming off Anglo Irish Bank, exposing it as a casino. Yet, there appears to have been precious little urgency in the Department of Finance.
Chairman Ciaran Lynch probed again about the now infamous theory of a “soft landing” that persisted through early 2008.
“Forecasting is not an exact science and maybe we all got fixated on it,” Cowen said.
Overall, yesterday’s performance owed more to the old pugilistic Cowen, rather than the broken figure who left the national stage four and a half years ago. He has a few regrets from his time as minister for finance, but not that many.
In the fullness of time his reflections on the general climate and ancillary matters while he was minister for finance may go to a favourable reassessment of his tenure. For now though, it’s unlikely that his testimony has changed many minds that have long been made up about his role in these matters.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Mr Cowen told the banking inquiry today: “It was clear we were on our own,” and “If we didn’t get it right Ireland would be set back 25 years.”
Brian Cowen is a deeply offensive man whatever way you look at him. In between slugging pints and slurring words with or without them, he said he took the best of the worst options regarding Ireland financial meltdown created by his party and him. That best/worst decision has made us the most indebted nation in the world behind Greece. The optics of it all was parish pump politics that pumped only corruption at every level. What his ponderously slow brain failed to calculate is that he has set this country 25 years back with another 25 to follow.
When he speaks he seeks only to talk down the clock; what does come then is the blame game whatever way his verbal vomit comes out: “ You have no monopoly on upset…” he whined to Deputy Marc Mac Sharry.
“…I have sympathy with those who suffered” he muttered between smirking even if you did not see it. A shambolic and utterly contemptible piece of flesh that should only and ever be behind bars with his partner in crime, Bertie Ahern. Rest assured: he will not be suffering with us and sympathy does not pay the bills.
A five year old child would have shown more common sense in running the country that this excuse of a man. The only problems left to him is how to spend his big fat pension and how to lose his big pot belly and obese body with it. In America he would be in prison now and in China he would have been shot.
If we as a country allow this man to walk away from the monster he created along with his cohorts, then we have failed democracy in every way and the future generations of Ireland. His lack of accountability to answer for what he had done is one thing, but the inability to fall just a little over his guinness not only rests with him, it rests with us for not only allowing it to happen by weak and non- existent laws, but that it now gives encouragement to others of his ilk to do it again. If we forget this lesson now and forever then we have only ourselves to blame and deserve the consequences.
WAKEY, wakey all you single parents out there! It’s July 2 and it’s the dawn of a new era for you, about 29,999 other mammies, and a few dads too.
No more will you wallow in idleness while your slack-jawed seven-year-old sits around losing what IQ he has. No longer will your welfare payment be “passive in nature”, to quote minister of state at Department of Social Protection Kevin Humphreys, speaking in the Dáil.
Not a bit of it! Your Taoiseach has reached down deep in his pocket and has come up with an “incentive” to work. The incentive is the back to work family dividend (BWFD — it just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), €29.80 a week per “qualified” child for the first year after you sign off your welfare payments, €14.90 a week in the second year, and nothing at all after that.
If you’ve already “transitioned” off the single family payment, sorry, but the BWFD is not for you because there are no retrospective payments. You can access the family income supplement (FIS) as can all lone parents on low wages who work more than 19 hours a week but the FIS only makes up 60% of the losses you suffer from leaving the single family payment and you’re still facing a 40% income drop.
Even if you have both of Enda’s carrots, the FIS and the BWFD, the lobby group Spark (Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids) reckons a lone parent with one child working 20 hours on the minimum wage will lose 11% of their income this year, 14% next year, and 18% in 2017. A lone parent with one child on the minimum wage working 35 hours a week still loses but loses less: 5% this year to 11% in 2017.
Am I after confusing you? You thought welfare payments were there to help people who needed them? So people who work less get more, right?
Wrong, wrong, wrong! The problem we are tackling here is not poverty, it is the moral turpitude of girls who go out and get themselves pregnant and then expect the State to pick up the tab! This is bad for you and bad for your children! So we are banishing you from the single family payment when your youngest child turns seven and punishing you if you don’t find enough work outside the home.
You have to learn that raising a child is not a job — unless you are caring for someone else’s child and paying tax, in which case it is a job. We all know young children turn into vegetables if they’re not put out of their own homes!
But raising your own child can’t be a job because we can’t see you working and we can’t measure the results you’re achieving. So we reckon you’re sitting around smoking, pouring vodka into your coffee. It’s not that we begrudge you the money, it’s just we worry about the children you’re rearing.
Some 23% of you are living in consistent poverty. Lone parents have a poverty rate which is 230% higher than that in the general population and 33% higher than that of the unemployed.
You may ask why we’re tackling poverty by making you poorer, but if you work over 19 hours a week you’ll only lose 11% of your income! That’s not bad, is it?
And what’s all this nonsense about not being able to find a part-time job? Veronica Scanlan from the Department of Social Protection wrote recently that working the required hours “should be possible for most given their children will be at school”.
Where will lone parents find a job for 19 hours a week which exactly fit the 20 hours or so which some seven-year-olds are in school? A job you can dump for the six months of the year which school is not on? Can you think of that job?
I can only come up with self-employment options, from taxi driver to call girl, and I guess you wouldn’t make much money at either of those if you only worked from 9am to 1pm.
But if you did any of those jobs you wouldn’t qualify anyway. Because here’s the funny part: You’re not entitled to family income supplement if you’re self-employed.
Why? Well, can’t be sure you’re working the hours, can we? We want every Irish mother to punch in and out of a proper job, no matter what age her child is and no matter what their needs are. We have been consistent in this since we took power.
In 2012, we cut the pension entitlements of women who had spent a good part of their lives working in the home because — as Joan Burton explained to the Dáil — “those who pay more benefit more”. The same year, we cut the respite grant paid to the carers of seriously disabled by more than 20%.
Now the recovery has taken hold, there is talk of restoring public sector wages and cutting taxes to make sure the benefits go to tax-paying workers, not carers.
Feeling the heat from 30,000 who lose their single family payment today, Joan Burton is spinning a €5 increase in child benefit, but she reveals her agenda when she makes the point that “it applies equally to people in and out of work, so it doesn’t impact on the attractiveness of work”.
She doesn’t go as far as the OECD, which came to Ireland a decade ago and suggested withholding child benefit from mothers who weren’t working outside the home. But that is the thrust of the turbo-capitalist model the Government is following.
Michael Noonan’s department fears a labour shortage in specialist areas and is trying to come up with ways to get women out to work.
“The minister’s approach,” according to a spokesperson, “is that we should expand capacity, not accept we are at full capacity.”
Is “expanding capacity” the extent of our vision for this society? Even if it means a needy seven-year-old standing at the school-gate desperately looking for his one and only parent who can’t get out of work early enough to be on time?
Sorry, but, from today, the breaking hearts of seven-year-olds don’t matter any more. We can’t make the care a parent give a child look like economic growth so we’re binning it.
We’re binning all that nonsense Frank Cluskey talked about when he introduced supports for unmarried mothers in the early 1970s.
From today onwards , caring for children in your own home is officially proscribed as an activity for able adults. Wakey, wakey, lone parents! Welcome to the care-free world!
Changes to the One Parent Family Payment come into effect today.
It means single parents in receipt of social welfare will be required to seek employment or training as soon as their youngest child turns seven.
The Department of Social Protection said that lone parents who increase their number of part-time working hours to 19 will be better off under the changes, but opponents say thousands of families will lose out.
Speaking in the Dáil last night, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the changes will force thousands of lone parents and children further into poverty.
"There are an estimated 12,000 families, including many in my own constituency of Louth, who now face significant cuts of up to €86 per week," he said.
"Many will be deeply affected by the cut to this allowance.
"This Thatcherite view of the world ignores the valuable social and economic role that lone parents make in raising their children."
Anybody expecting Charlie McCreevy to enter the banking inquiry armed with sackcloth and ashes would have been a long time waiting.
Instead, he burst in on the unsuspecting committee members with guns blazing. Regrets? He has none. Absolutely nein. Zero, zip, zilch. He did everything correctly. He hinted that he’s too polite to point out the bleedin’ obvious — that he was pure brilliant. He dragged the country, kicking and screaming into prosperity, and he was gone down the road when things began to turn sour.
McCreevy didn’t just arrive in to defend his record. He was there to blow out of the water all those who had fingered him as one of the main culprits of the bubble that begat the bust. He began by reeling off an array of dizzying statistics that showed how his tenure as Minister for Finance was, well, one of the greatest known to the State.
He defended property incentives and his record in public spending. “No matter how the figures are interpreted, it is quite clear there was no splurge over the period,” he said.
If it wasn’t for the redeeming features of his folksy manner and flashes of humour, he might have come across as insufferable.
During his opening remarks, he actually taunted two of his prospective interrogators in reference to why, as minister for finance between 1997 and 2004, he hadn’t taken advice from his department at various times.
“I’m sure when Deputy Pearse Doherty is Minister for Finance and Deputy Joe Higgins is Minister for Public Expenditure, they will get loads of advice from the Department of Finance and ignore it,” he said.
As it turned out, Doherty was the first to put the bould Charlie under the cosh. Would he accept that there had been a property bubble? McCreevy made a point of noting that there was no bubble up until 2004, when he went to Europe as Bertie’s commissioner. He had imposed an edict on himself not to talk about anything that happened thereafter.
Doherty pushed him. He resisted. That was his edict and he was sticking to it. The committee went into private session. When it returned, chairman Ciaran Lynch issued a legal warning to McCreevy.
Was there a bubble? In the end, he accepted there was, which was a relief, as the alternative was to accept Charlie really was living on a different planet from the rest of us.
That was about all he conceded through the rest of his evidence. His decision to row back on measures introduced in the Bacon report to damp down housing demand did not contribute to the bubble, he said.
The tax incentives he extended by two years did not contribute to the bubble. The decision to hive off regulation to a body separate to the Central Bank did not contribute to the bubble. He could admit that there was a bubble — after he’d left for Brussels — but he had nothing to do with it.
Equally, he didn’t do anything to drive the economy towards the rapids that awaited downstream. The hare-brained decentralisation scheme that, at the time in 2003, was alleged to have been formulated on the back of a cigarette packet?
“No,” he said. “I see a great many offices all over the country, decentralised offices. I’d be very sad that the total decentralisation hadn’t been completed as we had envisaged.”
You will have to look hard to find anybody who would agree with that conclusion. He had no regrets about the Special Savings Incentive Account, which cost €2.5bn, and has long been regarded as an election gimmick.
His old sparring partner Joe Higgins went looking for some self-reflection. He wondered whether McCreevy’s devotion to free markets been disturbed at all by the devestation and toxic debts that resulted from the economic collapse of 2008.
“I accept the facts speak for themselves,” he said, “but I’m not a believer in the alternative solutions that you have been advocating since we were both students a long time ago. I certainly agree it caused devestation, but I’m not giving up on it yet.”
He was too wily for the committee members. Will his appearance and performance adjust the general view of his role in propelling the economy towards its destiny? Unlikely. Those who regard him as well as he regards himself will continue to do so. Others will hardly have been swayed by a bravura performance that worked as a defence, but can’t change the facts.
Others who have come before the inquiry have, with some reflection, voiced regrets about aspects of their tenure in office or power. Not so McCreevy. If he maintains his edict of silence, we are unlikely to hear any more of his robust and entertaining version of how he oversaw the economy with mighty self-regard.