Taoiseach Brian Cowen has repeated exactly the infamous comment of former Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charles Haughey that “We are living way beyond our means”.
His extraordinary decision to repeat Haughey’s infamous appeal came as Dublin government ministers revealed that medical card holders and the working poor are to be targeted in next month’s budget.
Haughey became a disgraced public figure in recent years after it emerged the former premier had enjoyed a corrupt billionaire’s lifestyle on his private island even as he implemented savage cuts on the Irish public. A number of parallels have been drawn between the Haughey and Cowen eras.
On Thursday, 10 December, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan will reveal how the cash-strapped Dublin government intends to raise cash next year following its 54 billion Euro bailout of bank shareholders and developers.
Minister Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin and Minister for Health Mary Harney have this week both identified sick social welfare recipients as a potential source of cash under a planned new prescription charge.
The charge could begin as low as 50 cents, said Minister Hanafin. However, it is understood the charge would be increased rapidly in subsequent budgets, particularly for medical card holders with a disposable income.
Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin denied that the charge would discourage people from getting necessary medications, while the Environment Minister and Green Party leader John Gormley insisted the charge was “relatively modest”.
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said any move to begin charging medical card holders for prescriptions would represent “an assault on the poorest and sickest” which would only save a fraction of the Budget cuts required.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Finance has warned that the 26 County state “has a relatively low rate of tax on low income earners, half of which are outside of the tax bracket”.
It was an issue “which we will have to look at in the future,” Mr Lenihan said.
A national one-day strike is to take place on November 24th, while unions are said to considered plans for a second national strike to take place before the budget next month.
Speaking to an audience of members of his party’s youth group, Ogra Fianna Fail, in Bundoran, County Donegal, Mr Cowen sought to justify new cutbacks and taxes on Saturday night.
“The biggest crisis for the State is the public finances. We are living way beyond our means and we must pull back. There is no option to do otherwise,” he said.
“For every 30 euro of income, we are spending over 50 euro. That has to stop. We have to stabilise it, we have to correct it, and we have to do it now. It is in all our interests to do so. And my generation have a particular responsibility to your generation in getting this right.
“If we act now we can expect to see recovery begin by the end of next year. And the prospect of recovery will boost confidence and that will further reinforce recovery. The vicious circle will instead turn to a cycle of growth.”
Sinn Fein Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has said that Cowen’s speech “harks back to the worst of the Haughey era in Irish politics” and that his comments should be a wake-up call to anyone who has forgotten whose interests Fianna Fail will defend in the current economic crisis.
“When Haughey told people in the 1980’s that they were living beyond their means, he and others continued to enjoy extravagantly affluent lifestyles,” he said.
“While ordinary people carried the burden of hard economic times, the wealthy were immune from paying their fair share and were facilitated in hiding their wealth in offshore bank accounts.
“Nothing has changed. As in the 1980’s, this Fianna Fail-led government is determined the bleed ordinary workers dry while protecting an idle elite.
“There is a determined effort to scapegoat those who worked hard all their lives and because of the government’s economic mismanagement find themselves unemployed. They now face the prospect of having their social welfare slashed. Are we really supposed to believe these people and pensioners are living beyond their means?
“Meanwhile, senior civil servants and governments ministers are living way beyond our means as tax payers. Their wages have to be drastically cut.
“Those who made vast fortunes on property speculation and banking during the ‘Celtic Tiger era’ continue to enjoy affluent lifestyles while ordinary taxpayers carry the can for their recklessness. They must be subject to higher taxes and a wealth tax has to be introduced.”
“It is unacceptable to seek to address the current shortfall in public revenue by targeting the least well off. Cuts have to happen but they should start at the top.”