No room to Budge(t)

Sorry for the terrible pun… but I couldn’t resist it.

This week’s editorial, written in post-Budget craziness!

Waiting for yesterday’s Budget, one thing was clear. From radio, television, Twitter, Facebook and carrier pigeon the message was coming across loud and clear that people were terrified and angry.
I learned at about 11am that protesters had already assembled outside Leinster House to protest against ‘potential’ cuts to be made in the Budget. While much of the document’s content had been gradually leaked over the past number of weeks, it was clear that whatever Brian Lenihan came up with, there were going to be protests against it.
Fair enough – measures announced yesterday will have a serious impact on a lot of people. But protesting before you even know what you’re protesting against is something else.
The Government press office are masters of spin, and there’s no doubt that this Budget was spun like candy floss, until whatever substance there was in it was hidden in a cloud of speculation and worry.
Over the past couple of weeks, the idea that public sector pay would be cut and a carbon tax would be imposed became pretty certain. But most people were expecting larger cuts to social welfare and a bigger impact on income in the private sector, so understandably breathed a sigh of relief when these did not materialise.
The response, which began before the speech concluded, is a predictable mixture of both justified and unjustified protests, complaints and sectional interests protecting their patch.
While Brian Lenihan was at pains to suggest that this would be the hardest Budget of this recession, it’s almost certain that it won’t be. The country’s structural deficit will be somewhat addressed by cuts to public sector pay, but the drastic restructuring needed did not materialise.
The major step of cutting public sector pay, which has been the most controversial aspect of the financial situation over the past year, has been taken. This is going to create serious unrest. Elsewhere on this page, read about GRA members in Cork who are soon to be ballotted about industrial action. Taking a cut of between five and eight per cent under yesterday’s Budget, there is little doubt that they will vote to strike. And with one SIPTU official calling this “the harshest Budget since the 1930s”, they will not be alone. The public service has been hit hard and will strike back.
But they are not alone – the student maintenance grant, carers’ payments, child benefit and dole payments have all been cut.
Business organisations and many private sector workers have been seeking such cuts, but their introduction may change the minds of many on their relative benefits; how many private sector workers have children in college, elderly parents being cared for, or public sector spouses?
While the Government had no room to budge – whatever they cut would hurt somebody – it will become apparent in the days and weeks ahead whether they have made the right choices.


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