Chaos expected over ‘Bord Snip’ cutbacks
Chaos expected over ‘Bord Snip’ cutbacks

An official report for the Dublin government has laid out recommendations for one of the biggest planned cutbacks in the history of the 26 County state, urging 17,300 public sector lay-offs and over five billion Euro in cuts.

After considerable indecision, the Dublin goverment decided to publish the report by the commission -- universally known as ‘An Bord Snip’ -- but to postpone final decisions on cutbacks until October at the earliest.

Targets in the 300-page report run the gamut from country schools to foreign embassies and an overseas military peace-keeping mission.

Under the plan, 43 state agencies, including ombudsman offices and official watchdogs would be subsumed into Government departments, merged with another body or simply scrapped.

Among the shock proposals are:

* A 5% cut in all social welfare payments and a 20% reduction in the child benefit payments.

* An end to “double payments” where a claimant on one weekly benefit claims another, such as carers’ allowance or illness benefit.

* A number of new charges for medical card holders.

* The shutdown of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and possible closure of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.

* Garda stations around the country to be halved from around 700 to around 350 while half of all smaller district and circuit courts to be shut down.

* Almost 7,000 staff be axed from the education sector with a reduction in schools and third-level institutions through mergers, and increased class sizes.

* Parents charged 500 Euros a year for school transport while transport for special needs children to be means-tested.

* Reductions in special needs assistants and English language support teachers.

The team was set up six months ago to find ways of urgently clawing back billions of euro in public spending to address the state’s 400 million Euro weekly budget shortfall.

Trade unions and industry representatives voiced outrage over proposals that affected their members. Charities and groups that work with the poor and disabled were horrified by the plans.

IMPACT general secretary Peter McLoone said the economic crisis was caused by bankers, financiers and property speculators and it was they who should pick up the bill.

“If the Government attempts to impose compulsory redundancies, or cuts in pay and pensions, there will be a reaction which will include sustained, widespread and painful industrial action including strikes,” he said.

The Disability Federation of Ireland said it was “deeply concerned” with the proposed cuts and their likely impact on people with disabilities.

Unicef Ireland said it was ‘horrified’ by plans to target services for children, both in Ireland and internationally.

“It’s hard to believe the report refers to cuts in child-care services, education and health care as ‘savings,’” the organisation said in a statement.

The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) said that the less well-off in society were being asked to pay for the failings of the Celtic Tiger.

“Many welfare recipients have seen their cost of living rise over the past year, not fall as so many economic commentators keep asserting,” said Brid O’Brien, head of Policy and Media with the INOU.

Conradh na Gaeilge said that the possibility of abolishing the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, would do untold damage to both the Irish language and the Gaeltacht regions.

“If the Government, and indeed the Houses of Oireachtas Eireann, feel that they have responsibility for the Irish language in the national context, and even from a European perspective, they should not create further irrevocable problems for the language community,” said Padraig Mac Fhearghusa, president of Conradh na Gaeilge.

Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton broadly welcomed the report, but said it wasn’t perfect.

“The notion that you would seek to charge the most vulnerable people for their medicines is something that will shock people.”

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the report was written by people who have no experience of poverty.

He said while some proposals had merit others were ill-thought out, including cuts in the number of rural primary schools and the closure of Garda stations.

“While expenditure must be reduced, what is required is surgery, not butchery,” he said.

Sinn Fein TD Aengus O’Snodaigh, said the coalition government and the author of the report, UCD Professor Colm McCarthy, were completely out of touch with reality.

He said the government had made “a conscious and motivated decision to bail out the banks, indebting taxpayers for decades to come, but refused to stimulate the economy to keep people employed” and was quite happy to cut welfare payments at the same time.

“Bord Snip was not independent. Colm McCarthy has always had a right-wing political agenda. The cuts in this report reflect that agenda.

“He was sent off to identify O3.5 billion in savings and came back with O5.2. Half of that is in social welfare and health and children. We still haven’t had the report from the Commission on Taxation to identify where revenue can actually be raised...

“The government is on a crash diet. They don’t care about the long-term consequences, they just want to inflict pain now on sections of the economy which they have no vested interests in so they can make-up for their own mistakes and look good to international suitors.”

When it was put to Taoiseach Brian Cowen today [Friday] that the proposal for a 5 per cent cut in Social Welfare rates and similar plans were politically unsustainable, Mr Cowen replied: “We have to look at all of these issues. The scale of the issues is such that no area of expenditure is immune from consideration.

“We have seen a lot of improvements and quite rightly so in a whole range of social policy areas down the years but you can’t begin this process given the scale of the problem we face by starting to suggest that various parts of expenditure can’t be considered for review or for adjustment. You have to look at everything.”

Green Party leader John Gormley later warned he could not rule out a withdrawal from coalition with Fianna Fail, possibly precipitating a collapse of the government.

Minister Gormley says the recommendations of ‘An Bord Snip’ will have to be considered by Green Party embers at their convention this weekend.

He added that if two-thirds of Green Party members vote against the programme for Government, his party would pull out of government.

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