Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny, took the rare step in the past few days of issuing a televised broadcast to the nation, outlining the precarious position in which Ireland has found itself and warning that this week’s budget is the first measure on the long road to economic recovery.
His televised address was the first from a Taoiseach in over thirty years – an indication in itself of the gravity of the situation facing this country - and he did not mince his words when outlining the challenges ahead of all of us.
He admitted that the budget, the final details of which were being revealed as we went to press, would be “tough” and could not protect all those who were vulnerable. He acknowledged too that this country is a long way from solving its economic problems and solemnly declared that he wanted to be the Taoiseach who retrieved Ireland’s economic sovereignty.
His stark warnings were ominous and within hours we knew why. By Monday evening the swingeing cuts in expenditure had fallen like the proverbial axe on social welfare, education, health, the environment, enterprise and the public sector. No one, it seems, will be immune as the 1.4 billion euro package impacts on almost every aspect of life as we know it.
The closure of Garda Stations, reductions in benefit to parents, the slashing of disability payments, increased student fees and health charges as well as an annual household charge and cuts to the fuel allowance are just some of the draconian measures proposed in the first element of the budget.
The extent of the cuts have sent shock waves throughout every element of society but it will be some days before families will be able to determine how the raft of hidden cuts and stealth charges will actually impact on them.
And that was just day one! The second element of the budget was being announced as we went to press but it has been widely reported that changes in VAT, due to be announced yesterday evening, would add a further 500 euro to the spending of the average household. The cost of petrol, diesel and coal were also expected to rise as a result of hikes in carbon tax. It all makes for very sorry reading and begs the question - where can any Government conceivably expect to make further savings in budgets ahead. It is bewildering in the extreme.
The future for thousands of families as a consequence of announcements over the past two days is very bleak indeed and many of the agencies representing the marginalised in society have expressed grave concerns in relation to the impact which these measures will have on the poor, disabled, the elderly, students and those who are ill. It is indeed a very sombre period in this country and poses difficulties for every citizen of this nation. That, in the words of the Taoiseach himself, the Irish people were not responsible for this economic crisis, makes it ever harder to bear.
The announcements also call into serious question the comment last week of Transport, Tourism and Sports Minister, Leo Varadkar who suggested that the budget would be such that people would be able to take a holiday next year.
In light of what now faces individuals the length and breadth of this country that was facetious in the extreme and Minister Varadkar should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.