Tag Archive for Michael Noonan

Mis-selling and misunderstanding

By raising PRSI, this government has proved itself no better than mis-selling banks it slavishly serves.

Budget 2013: Michael “Tweedle Dumb” Noonan. (Not pictured: Brendan “Tweedle Dumber” Howlin.)

Why is the government attacking the banks for mis-selling Payment Protection Insurance, and then doing exactly the same itself?

With this hopelessly ineffective coalition hog-tied by an ideological insistence on not raising income tax or reducing base rates of social welfare, there was little enough room for cuts or revenue-raising.

So what do you do?

Cut everything that isn’t base-rate welfare, and raise everything that isn’t income tax.

But as ever, the government (and much of the electorate) has misunderstood the concept of social insurance, and the fact that for it to be justified, people have to get something in return.

Why, for instance, should self-employed people be forced to pay PRSI when the chances of them ever getting anything for it are about as much as the Green Party ever being seen again?

The banks are rightly being hammered (and wrongly, in some cases, being able to avoid responsibility) for selling insurance policies that would more or less never pay out.

Rather than adopting the principle of paying for something and actually getting something in return, the government seems to have copied this scam of selling a dodgy insurance policy for their own use.

It should come as no surprise, of course. They’ve already decided to ape the banks when it comes to their funding issues and the foisting of private debt upon the general public, so a little mis-selling of insurance shouldn’t bother us.

Commentators (particularly the myopic ‘spokespeople’ for small and medium enterprises and economic think-tanks) tell us that ‘we must incentivize people to work’ – but where is the incentive for the self-employed in paying huge sums and getting nothing in return?

Their other favourite word – ‘competitiveness’ – was nowhere in evidence as the government once again studiously avoided doing anything about the laughably expensive childcare costs in Ireland.

Competitiveness is not simply getting people to work as cheaply as possible – it’s creating a situation where they can work, because the social infrastructure around them allows them to do so.

Forget taxes, and the idea that a small rise would cause a modern-day equivalent of the Flight of the Earls – it is the astronomical childcare costs that mean Dublin families must cough up thousands of euro of taxed income just to be able to go to work – with the rest of the country not far behind.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was another dig at women with the introduction of taxation on maternity benefit, as a less-than-generous system is further watered down to appease those bankrolling the economy.

And just how bound are we by these ideological insistences?

Well, our friends at the Iona Institute – not exactly paragons of reason – saw plenty to kick up about in the reduction of child benefit, but had nothing to say about the reduction in maternity benefit.

Next time they tell you they supposedly have the interests of mothers at heart too, you’ll know it’s lip service.

In fact in Ireland, lip service is about all that most people now paying PRSI will find they are entitled to.

Is that a foot in your mouth, or are you just glad to see me?

"What Michael REALLY meant was that everything is the fault of the poor and they only have themselves to blame...""

I love Irish politicians.

Just when I start to think that they might actually be capable of doing something intelligent, they invariably make a total mess of it.

But just as predictable is the faux outrage when they say or do something as remarkably tactless as Michael Noonan did today.

After over a year of austerity and and a general election it should be no surprise to people that he believes that emigration is a lifestyle choice.

He can’t afford to believe anything else.

Why else would he preside over slash-and-burn budgets and the wanton destruction of social services?

Why else would he introduce a finance act that will cost workers an inordinate amount with little hope of creating any jobs?

Why else would he keep tugging his metaphorical forelock as the IMF and the ECB told him how great we all are, that, in Brian Lenihan’s memorable fallacy “our plan is working”?

Their plan might be working, but much of Ireland isn’t, and the wave of emigration is testament to that.

I went on Pat Kenny’s Frontline program just before Christmas determined to give a positive view of the life of the emigrant – after almost 13 years abroad I can safely say it’s not a death sentence.

But all the while I was sitting in the TV studio with my collar buttoned up, I was aware of the enormous hurt and loneliness and pain that emigration causes, and there was no way in the world I would have said anything to try to lessen them.

Emigration is immensely painful for most people. If you don’t believe me, hang around an Irish airport some morning and see for yourself.

You’ll see fathers commuting off to God knows where in search of a week’s work.

You’ll see young people with packed bags and empty eyes heading off to places they know little about.

You’ll see the tired 40-year-olds who thought their travelling days were done, once again heading off with 10 kilos of hand luggage and the e-mail address of an old friend in Berlin.

You’ll see it in my inbox every week as people write looking for advice on jobs and apartments and childcare as they abandon any hope they might have had of raising their family in their own country.

What you won’t see is the likes of Noonan, a life of political privilege having inured him from the harsh realities he and his ilk regularly foist upon the nation.

It seems like a trivial thing, but maybe not.

Maybe this piece of sublime stupidity will be the straw that breaks the back of the Irish camel.

Despite the fact that we went into this government and its contemptuous policy of cuts and austerity with our eyes wide open, we might finally choose to exercise our democratic rights.

Maybe this insult will help people to find their voice, to get up out of their armchairs and say no more.

Or maybe we’ll just keep heading to the airport and leaving the likes of Noonan to do their best to sort it out. Here’s hoping he won’t have the chance.

At the very least, Noonan has to go and be replaced by Joan Burton. The sooner we force an end to this charade the better.

Breaking the bullying cycle

Even though I’m surrounded by them, I’m glad I’m not a teacher. My brother, my mother and my wife are all teachers, and I can safely say that with my lack of patience, I’d spend more time in front of a judge than a blackboard.

But things can be learned from them, and given the difference in the educational upbringing of my wife and I (mine at the hands of the Christian Brothers, hers in a modern, liberal Swedish/European system), it’s a subject often discussed at home.

Take bullying, for example.

At my wife’s school, bullying is taking very seriously indeed. The alleged perpetrator is immediately removed from the environment and asked about the situation.

There is no accusation, no discussion about the past, about evidence or specific incidents. A simple question to the bully follows- what are you going to do about it?

Though bullying still occurs, it is a very effective way of acknowledging and dealing with the problem not least because no time is wasted in raking over the past. The future is what matters.

But in European politics the attitude is the opposite. Bullied into repeating referenda until the desired response was given, Ireland is now being hung by its y-fronts from the school railings and further humiliated over the bailout.

We sent for our big brother, but rather than the aggressive rugby player or hurling captain we got Enda and Michael, who, like their predecessors, also turned out to have glass jaws.

On the sidelines stand the chief cheerleaders of the bullies- men like Peter Sutherland, who as chair of Goldman Sachs cravenly hopes to share in whatever lunch money the rest manage to beat out of us.

Otherwise reasonable nations like Sweden, Denmark and Belgium stand silently by, fearful that in different circumstances it could be them on the hook.

There are two ways to fight back, and neither of them is easy. The first is to hit back and give the bully a bloody nose by not paying up. This of course would result in a massive beating from the markets, but the only way to wind this bully is to hit him in the wallet.

Besides, we won’t have access to the markets for the foreseeable future, so they’d be no great loss. And standing up to the economic bullying is the first stroke we need to pull if we are to return to the confidence trick known as the money markets.

The second, less-preferrable option is to band together with the other poor unfortunates and try to present a united front- essentially saying to our creditors “go ahead and beat us, but only for 23 hours a day, rather than the 24 you’re filling at the moment. Thanks”. There is no respect to be won here.

At the bottom of all this, most worryingly of all, an ideological battle is being waged, and staggeringly it is the free marketeers- who caused this mess in the first place- who look like winning it.

People like Leo Varadkar, who believe that there is no link between poverty and ill health, no longer have to argue their case for eradicating the welfare state; there is simply no money left to pay for decent healthcare, so it’s a moot point. Ditto social welfare. Ditto minimum wage.

Note how all these affect the poor disproportianately.

There is a third way, of course, and that is to take the bully out of the class and ask him what he is going to do about his behaviour.

To succeed, the Irish government would need to precede this by doing going on a Europe-wide PR offensive, doing set-piece interviews with the major European newspapers and explaining in great deal what not renegotiating is going to cost the French and German taxpayer over the next ten years.

There is nothing the European holds more sacred than his hard-won pension, and to implicitly or explicitly threaten its value by forcing a meltdown on the euro would make them sit up and take notice like a gunshot.

We need to play the bully’s game and we need to do it to the same audience, but with elections coming up all over Europe the timing may be all wrong.

So given the limited options available, let’s go for the first option.  It’s time to roll up your sleeves and swing as hard as you can Enda, safe in the knowledge that we’re all behind you – for now.

Meet the new boss…

Michael Noonan- hope springs eternal...

At first I thought there was something wrong with my TV.

When watching Dáil proceedings, a low humming could be heard.

I switched TV, but the problem didn’t go away.

I alerted the people at the Dáil, but their technicians were baffled by it. Then we copped on.

The humming wasn’t because of some technical fault.

It was actually Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams purring on the opposition benches, as the parties all around him scrambled to rearrange the deckchairs on our rapidly-sinking country.

Contrary to popular belief, it now appears that the big winner in the last election was Gerry, not Enda, and the big loser was Eamon Gilmore and not Mícheál Martin.

Martin was always destined to be cleaned out, but it was Gilmore who promised us “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way”, before promptly giving us Frankfurt’s way almost before the final count was over. “Gilmore for Taoiseach” indeed.

The strutting confidence of Kenny and Noonan has all but disappeared, as Michael meekly declared today that he “hopes” that  promise to cut the Irish bailout interest rate will be honoured.

A marked difference from their promise in the now-legendary – and quickly forgotten – five point plan. “Fine Gael will take on the big vested interests that have contributed to the current crisis – the bankers, the bondholders, the developers and the unions”.

They all remain untouched, much as they would have had Martin somehow miraculously won. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

And so to Gerry, purring over Sinn Féin’s policies which were proved right, simply because by not being in power, he cannot be proved wrong.

It has turned out more or less as he predicted- we’ve swapped one for the other. The policies are no different.

The only real triumph in the face of this lack of creative thought by our government alternatives has been the writings of David McWilliams.

His ability to recast and rephrase the same or similar arguments and solutions has been remarkable, yet no matter what innovative ideas he comes up with, it seems that those in power will not listen to them, just because of where they come from.

It’s like turning down the cure for cancer because it was discovered by Jack the Ripper.

And this is essentially the choice that Irish people will face in the next election when it comes to Adams.

Will they be able to look beyond the skeletons in the Sinn Féin closet and effect real change, or will Adams and the party be condemned to continued atonement for the sins of the past for the foreseeable future?