Image

Over two years ago, I wrote this angry piece (below) in the Sunday Independent about how Ireland was a soft touch when it came to wasting cash, bailing out zombie banks and spending too much cash on overseas aid, welfare and the public sector. Alas, not a lot has changed in the meantime (although we cancelled that Northern Irish motorway).

Forget the fighting spirit, we’re a soft touch          August 2011

The rugby World Cup will soon be underway and we’ll hear a lot of talk about our fighting spirit and our stubborn ‘never say die’ attitude. But, as a metaphor for our national attitude, forget about it. Rebel nation, my hat. We are in fact a pathetic soft touch and have allowed ourselves to be rolled over like a collapsed scrum. Just for a depressing summary, let us look at ten top examples of the Irish public letting ourselves be milked. It is an eclectic list but the damning examples are all linked by the same lazy attitude, the same ignorance and unwillingness to challenge the status quo. And, in recent bitter years, the same supine acceptance that we must accept, and pay for, the sins of the previous political/civil service/fat cats regime, which ran us into the ground.

Let’s look at the big one. We are bailing out the banks, and underwriting the bank guarantee, when we should have penalised them and let Anglo Irish Bank go to the wall. We’re bailing out Quinn insurance, and effectively underwriting the gambling debts of Sean Quinn, by levying every insurance holder in the State. Amazing. But there are other big examples of being a soft touch that are rarely highlighted. We are sending 700 m euro overseas in development aid, for example, when we are closing schools and hospitals here in Ireland. Nuts. And, for good measure, we are going to spend 500 m euro on roads in Northern Ireland, which is not, so far as I know, a Third World Country country and may, in fact, be in better shape than we are. But sure, here lads, help yourself.

And then, of course, the biggest soft touch of all: we are taking the hit for the European banking system, and not getting any mercy in return. The present government have clawed something back in terms of the lending rate for our bail out but the previous crowd were too demoralised to look for anything except the most punishing terms

But the really depressing thing is that the present government appears to have done nothing to change this ‘soft touch’ mentality, or reverse some of these blandly unquestioned spends – despite all their promises. We have not got the radical change we had hoped for, not by a long shot. This consensus-driven Government is also part of the soft touch. They too will give your money away, buckle to the public sector unions and let the upper tiers of fat cat officialdom remain untouched.

Here’s a few more soft touches. We still have a vast array of wasteful quangos, despite the McCarthy report recommending they be immediately slashed. We still pay some of the highest levels of remuneration in Europe for senior public servants, and the heads of semi state bodies. We therefore pay among the highest rates for electricity etc to pay for these salaries. Soft touch. We still, despite all the talk of reform, tolerate a political culture which is overpaid and rife with perks, allowances and pensions that the rest of us can only dream of. We have one of the most generous rates of social welfare in Europe: a deterrence to the development of a real economy. Soft touch. We pay children’s allowances to children not living in the State, but resident in Easter Europe. We have ring-fenced our large public sector from job cuts or further pay cuts, and thereby must make the cuts instead in schools and hospitals. And on and on.

There used to be a creature called the Celtic Tiger which, at its best, was lean and competitive. We were entrepreneurial and had a real and booming indigenous business culture. But right now, it is a bloated, defeated animal, weighed down by soaring costs and a cosseted bureaucracy, and the lazy indiscipline of a now vanished troika of FF, the trade unions and senior civil servants, whose organic damage the new Government is unable or unwilling reverse.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. This week the UK Chancellor George Osborne gave a full statement to the House of Commons on the international financial crisis. It was an excellent summary, delivered with conviction and clarity and fearless about the need for budget responsibility, and deep cuts where necessary. Would that we had such clarity and sense of purpose here. If you want a rugby metaphor, Osborne was like a point kicker, single-mindedly concentrating on the goal posts and indifferent to easy popularity. While, in this country, we are like a bunch of demoralised crowd pleasers who get endlessly rolled over and hand out money to everybody. A soft touch – instead of a sure touch.

Advertisements