HRE we go again, in the run up to the Budget, losing the run of ourselves. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for losing the run of ourselves when we’re excited, and especially when the Government is doing its utmost to dampen expectations.
But what I’m going to suggest this week will surely prove, once and for all, that I can be as reckless as the best of them when the chips are down.
While I’d truly love to have their pensions, I’d positively hate to be in Michael Noonan’s shoes, or Leo Varadker’s either, seeing that the one bit of good news they might have been saving for Budget day has already been hijacked by Willie O’Dea. Take a bow, Willie. You’ve copper fastened the extra fiver for us senior citizens. For a while there, I thought that Leo might have been having second thoughts after meeting a state pensioner driving a Ferrari.
The Fianna Fail social welfare spokesman, however, will brook nothing less than an extra fiver. As far as we’re concerned, it’s his Budget now. Anything less than a fiver, he says, would be seen as extremely mean. Exactly!
As a pensioner myself, I’m delirious at the thought of an extra fiver a week. It’s pathetic, really, but that’s how I am. You can see, however, why I wouldn’t want to be in Michael’s or Leo’s shoes. I mightn’t be able to control how I’d use the said footwear if I happened to meet Willie along the corridors of power.
Having said that, I hope I’m not coming across as being ungracious. A fiver is not to be sneezed at and many people of my vintage will know that it’s almost as much as the wage packet they got for the first week in their first job, 50 or so years ago, when they were building the country, as they say. My first pay packet, by the way, was six pounds, seven and sixpence, which now sounds like ancient coinage dug up in an archaeological excavation – except that you could buy a decent sized house if you put every penny of it away for a couple of years. The trouble is that, having heard of the proposed pension increase so far in advance, I’ve gone and blown it all already. Lost the run of myself, if you don’t mind?
So what’s a Minister to do then when everyone around him is clamouring for something and he can’t even take credit for a bit of Budget Day benevolence that he says will cost him €150 million. Well, he can hardly row back now - seeing that Willie has upstaged him and seeing that we’re all so euphoric and that some of us have already spent it. Can he?
So here’s what I think he should do. Excuse me if it sounds as if I’m pre-empting the Budget or trying to take credit for a good idea. For all I know the Minister might have thought of this himself months ago. I think he should throw prudence to the winds, take the momentum back from Fianna Fail, kick to touch, and double the increase. Give us an extra tenner and put Willie on the back foot.
But that would be the height of folly, you say, seeing that Theresa May has named the day; that the guards and the teachers are preparing for war and that small children may have to raise themselves if Katherine Zappone doesn’t get enough money to bring some relief to the squeezed middle. Look, it was just a reckless idea, that’s all.
Meanwhile – and this is not a reckless idea – someone will have to do something about the downright injustice of the local property tax. Everyone was prepared to take to the streets to protest against paying for water, but nobody seems to be incensed by the property tax which is a much more unfair imposition.
Already, it’s beginning to affect county loyalties with different counties imposing different charges. The country is too small for regional disparities in tax rates. It’s too small too, I think, to be hosting so many local representatives in so many different bodies with so many different agendas. You’d think we’d have learned something from Brian Boru!
We’ll all be flocking to a low tax county to avoid LPT hikes now being imposed by some local authorities. To hell or to Connacht, as Cromwell is reported to have said. I’m lucky enough to be living in a county where the flags are still flying after the hurling victory and where the standard property rate still applies, unlike Limerick where people are expected to fork out ten per cent more in 2017. I have friends on the other side of the county boundary – who wouldn’t cross over in a fit – but who are seething with rage, nonetheless, over the unfairness of it all.
I shouldn’t be too smug though. Everything could change in a blink. Last year when Clare dropped its charges by 15 per cent, I was going to move across the Shannon, but this year they’re back to square one. Limerick has come off worst of the three counties in the Mid-West with the whopping 10 per cent increase for 2017.
What I want to know is this? Are we going to have to put up with dirt tracks and cavernous pot-holes from now on, while Limerick people enjoy super highways and fancy street paving?
Oh, never mind! Just roll on Budget day and that extra fiver.