You have to feel sorry for Tony Blair and George Bush running around Iraq frantically searching for weapons of mass destruction when all the time they were skulking around the halls of Dail Eireann, waiting to unleash their full force in Budget 2008. There were two in total, both holding the innocuous moniker of Brian, a rather inoffensive title to say the least, one followed by Cowen the other Lenihan.
On budget day, masked behind the perilously thin veil of ‘we had to make hard decisions’, they dealt blow after blow with little remorse. There was no apology. One would have thought an explanation was on the cards. How about “We had 15 years of prosperity, a boom time when revenue coffers overflowed. We didn’t see the overflow as an opportunity to underpin the future. No, we used the money to buy votes, to secure our place in power, to have fun, to set up committees and gamble on technology. Yes, we heard George Lee, Eddie Hobbs and David McWilliams prophesying the bursting bubble but we choose to ignore them. Laughing at their pessimism we decided to eat, drink and be merry.
“Well, as Eddie Hobbs repeatedly forecast, ‘the chickens have come home to roost’ and you are all going to pay the price for our mistakes and lack of foresight. Yes, it has to be said we handled the boom with all the skill and finesse of a chimpanzee on a violin so to turn it around we had to make hard decisions.”
At least that would have been honest if somewhat insulting to chimpanzees. I believe that a chimp would make a finer fist of music than this lot did with our finances, but at least the apology would have made it easier to swallow. I could actually have run with the idea that we all make mistakes, nobody is perfect, they got it wrong and they need our help.
Maybe we might even have acknowledged our own little part in the current disaster. No one has bothered to mention that we happily took the one euro for every four we saved under the SSIA schemes. Those approaching 70 at the turn of the millennium jumped for joy at the thought of a free medical card and availed of it immediately. Many grasped the tax breaks involved in apartment schemes and investment property. There were a few, like the analysts, with their cups half empty crying in the wilderness that it would all end in tears and that the chickens were approaching on the horizon, but we ignored them and left George, Eddie and David to cry into their glasses and prepare the roosting houses. Who’s having the last laugh now!
The removal of the medical card for the over 70s was a particularly brutal measure and a measure that should just be scrapped outright. However the conspiracy theorist in me fantasises that such a move was just a smoke screen. Is it possible that those who have displayed such evident ineptitude with the country’s finances could be so clever as to pull a stunt where one announcement obliterates the rest? Were they always going to row back on this decision but were aware that the storm it would create in the interim would allow all the other measures pass unnoticed? How can I, a healthy thirty something, complain about a few extra grand per annum from my pocket when I hear about Johnny or Mary telling Joe Duffy or Billy McCarthy about the 36 tablets a day that are going to cost them a couple of hundred euro per week. How can teachers’ highlight the appalling idea of increasing the pupil teacher ratio when they hear Paddy lamenting to Pat Kenny that he feels he has been used and abused; good for building up the nation but now in his old age he is a burden and costing the state too much.
Were they banking on the idea that we wouldn’t mind the one and two per cent income levy, the 50 cent on a bottle of wine, the 8 cent on a litre of petrol or the half a per cent rise in VAT, when we heard the plight of the over 70s. There’s an old saying, “I used to complain that I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet”; was that the game plan? Sadly such ponderings are pure fantasy, it was actually just plain stupidity rather than a master stroke.
There is an American English expression used to describe a person who gives something and later wants it back as an ‘Indian giver’. The term is based on an unsubstantiated story that a group of Pilgrims traded muskets and other supplies to local Natives in good faith for corn. However, the Indians opened fire with their new weapons, killing or wounding the settlers and reclaiming the corn.
While the expression is considered to have racist undertones against Native Americans, in light of the pensioners’ medical card debacle, it’s hard to find a more politically correct description of the current Fianna Fail administration. You can realign the scheme, raise the entry level or renegotiate it for newcomers but you can’t move the goal posts for those already in possession of a medical card. Just after the budget I was speaking to one person who whipped out a medical card and there, in black and white, was an expiry date of 2020. What are the legal implications of that I wonder? If your card says it expires in 2020 and you haven’t abused the rules then how can it be taken away? Can they just cancel every passport with the stroke of a pen?
The other thing I noticed from the medical card fallout is the fact that so many people over 70 are dependent on long term medication that appears to cost a fortune. Heart pills, cholesterol pills, arthritis injections, diabetes drugs; the list goes on. Personally I am quite shocked. It’s not the over 70s that should be taking to the streets on this one, it’s the pharmaceutical companies; they are making serious profit on the deal.
I think this has highlighted another problem entirely, the fact that we are not looking at growing old healthily, but growing old in order to become walking chemical factories. We have never before been able to explain the wonders of human physiology in such detail and yet we choose to stabilise people on unnatural chemicals to keep problems at bay. There is definitely an evil conspiracy in that, but another day’s work entirely.
The fact remains that the removal of the over 70s medical card was a mistake. Why all the dancing and waffling around the issue? They should just come out, call it like it is, a mistake, and take it back. Who cares about the few super rich that benefit, there will always be those that sneak in under the fence. However, a little like my idea of the pre budget apology for the mess they’ve created, such a simple solution over medical cards is probably unthinkable. After all it would be an honest stand and unfortunately honesty from politicians is as rare as the teeth in those hens that have come home to roost!