The achievements of Fine Gael and Labour in Government

Sunday 24 May 2015 13:33

The referendum result was as good as things get. Six out of every ten people in Ireland have said a resounding YES to our friends and family in the LGBT community. I suspect a substantial portion of the 37% who said NO are not actually homophobic but simply couldn’t bring themselves to countenance the marriage question. That portion of the ‘no’ side should not be discounted either. The reality emerging from this referendum is that, apart from a tiny minority of people who reject almost everything to do with human sexuality other than acts sanction by Canon Law (, the country has taken a deep breath and thought, ‘So what? We’re all different. Let’s get on with it.’

But let’s remind ourselves though, that the vote was carried by ordinary people walking the streets, handing out leaflets, phoning friends and family and just generally talking about it – not by a lacklustre Enda Kenny who only really worked up any enthusiasm once he saw what way the wind was blowing. This referendum was won by gay people, their friends and families and supporters and the ordinary people of Ireland who rejected the warnings of The Iona Institute and various categories of religious men. It was a victory for love, friendship, solidarity, understanding and hope.

So what has the government of Fine Gael and Labour achieved? What else is happening in Ireland under this government? The big thing to remember about Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil (the Green were there for a bit too) is that they have collaborated together to transfer the debts of bankers and vulture funds onto the old, the sick, the disabled and in general onto ordinary working people.

Really, I hear you ask, incredulously, how so?

Just take one example: during the austerity reign of Fine Gael and Labour €100 million euros have been cut from the Drugs Payment Reimbursement  Scheme. Who pays for their drugs now, if the government is not paying for it? Sick people, they’re the only people who use legal drugs. Where did the €100 million go? To pay the bondholders. So who pays the bondholders?

It’s important to remember that the legacy of successive Fianna Fáil governments (together with The Greens) and taken up manfully by Fine Gael and the Labour Party, is a longterm national debt of between 182 billion and 193 billion, depending on which figure you opt for. The figure doesn’t matter very much because it’s Monopoly money anyway. We’re never going to pay it back. But having it sitting on our shoulders has consequences. And this government, despite what they said beforehand, has simply accepted those consequences.

What does this mean?

It means that the government has agreed to burn the people rather than the bondholders. they have decided that ordinary people are better able to bear the pain of cuts than rich people, that our capacity for bearing suffering is greater than say, Michael Hasenstab who in 2012 owned 2.12 billion dollars worth of our debt.

So what are the consequences? The main thing to remember is that we have lived through, and are living through years of so-called ‘austerity’. Since the crash the government has cut health funding by €2.7 billion; there are 12,000 fewer people working in the health services and you can be sure they weren’t managers. Included in these cuts is the loss of two million home help hours a year. We all know what that means to the elderly and the disabled.

At the present moment 25,000 children are waiting to get their first outpatient appointment. Of these, 10,000. In fact, the number of people of all ages waiting for a hospital bed is 76,000. By way of comparison, if I needed a hospital appointment in Italy I could have it next week, and GP healthcare is free there.

“The cuts in health budgets over successive years have had a direct, negative impact on the quality of services which our system now provides,” commented Professor Trevor Duffy, President of the IMO. “The cuts in the numbers of acute hospital beds, nursing home beds, rehab facilities and in resources for General Practice are all financial cuts and the response has to include providing additional financial resources.” (From The Journal)

Thus, Mr Hasenstab’s income is provided by the sick, the elderly, the disabled and those in need of care, courtesy of Fianna Fail, The Green Party, Fine Gael and Labour. Pretty soon they’ll be praising the sick and disabled as patriots who saved Ireland.

For the past six or seven years about 30,000 Irish people have emigrated from Ireland every year. before Much is made of the fact that about have of those emigrants have a degree and therefore, it is assumed, they are moving abroad for ‘experience’. Perhaps they are, and perhaps some will come home, but very few of them would have left if there was work here. And the other 50% who are emigrating with a Leaving Cert. And who thinks there will be work for either group in the next five years? Before the crash and austerity we had net immigration. The disappearance of 30,000 of our family, friends and fellow citizens every year is a direct consequence of austerity. Ever wonder what the 12,000 people who lost their jobs in the health services are doing now? Well, there’s a shortage of doctors and nurses in England, for example. In total, over 300,000 people have emigrated from this country since austerity was introduced.

Now many of those people had jobs before they left. So why did they emigrate? There are a number of probable reasons. The following statistics come from an Oxfam case study. Ireland is the fifth most expensive country in the EU to live in (17% above EU average). Housing rental prices are incredibly high and much housing stock is not family-orientated. A study in 2010 found that 40% of people surveyed had €100 or less disposable income each month after their bills were paid – that’s €100 for treating the kids, having a drink out, taking a holiday, buying a newspaper, going to a match, Christmas presents, birthdays and so on. A full 600,000 people had no disposable income at all after their bills were paid. 18% of mortgages are in arrears, and the banks are inflexible as ever.

Taxes have increased year on year and more workers have been taken into the tax net. New taxes and charges pop up regularly - Universal Social Charge, pension levies, refuse charges, the property tax, the water charges - with no improvement in services (so we’re not getting what we pay for). the lower your wages the bigger the increase in taxes: a worker earning €20,000 a year had a tax increase of 1.3% in 2013, while a worker earning €100,000 only had an increase of 0.2% and if you were earning 200k you only had an increase of 0.1%. In other words, the richer you are the less likely you are to have to pay the salary of Michael Hasenstab.

Why waste your youth struggling to pay bills when you could earn good wages and live in better houses? The myth is that our wages are too high, and our government constantly ratchets up the pressure to make them lower. However, in reality our wages are about average in the EU, well ahead of countries like Bulgaria, but behind the UK or France.

Finally, let’s remember what ‘paying our debts’ actually means. When someone (a billionaire, a fund manager, a bank) buys a country’s debt they expect to live on the interest. Thus, for example, when we lent money to Greece to ‘help’ them through their crisis, we borrowed it at about 1% and lent it to Greece at about 5%. In other words, by ‘bailing out’ Greece we made a tidy profit. They pay us by cutting health budgets, firing public service workers, cutting pensions (a 40% cut in state pensions!) and selling off their precious national treasures. That is global capitalism for you. there is no such thing as good capitalism. At least Syriza is trying to escape from that stranglehold. We, on the other hand, think we’re wonderful because we’re prepared to keep paying the Hasenstabs.

So when we took on our 180 billion euros of debt (remember we took it on in order to ‘save’ the banks) what we did in fact was promise to pay a lot of very rich people a lot of interest for the next 100 years or so. The important thing to remember is that it’s not ‘the government’ that pays Michael Hasenstab’s income, it’s us - not just the tax-payers as the people are fond of calling us, but all inhabitants of this island and all emigrants who are forced to leave, every sick child, every old person, every disabled person and every single person who earns a living or scrapes by on social welfare. We all pay for Michael Hasenstab’s lifestyle and the lifestyle of all the other Hasenstabs.

As it happens, while we were joining the waiting list for our hospitals, soaking up the wage cuts and the new taxes, paying for our own medicines, watching our sick and elderly and disabled friends losing their autonomy and getting sicker, and our younger relatives emigrating, Mr Hasentab’s ‘investment in Ireland’ made him an 86% profit.

Pat yourself on the back - you paid that.

That’s the achievement of Fine Gael and Labour.

So now that the referendum is over and we know who our friends are, let’s keep the names of our enemies in mind. My list is short enough: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour. What’s your list?