The ghost of giveaways past


For a brief period yesterday, I hallucinated that it was 2007.

The news said unemployment was down, and they were talking about a property bubble in certain leafy areas of Dublin.

It felt just like the good old days. So I dumped my thrifty homemade soup in the bin, and went to buy myself a sandwich – €4.50 – to celebrate.

Chowing down on my luxury lunch, I returned to the office to hear Eamon Gilmore promise that families would be the first to benefit from new tax cuts. Gilmore for Taoiseach, I cried, joyously, although I have no children.

Had the previous six years had been a mirage? Or had the ghost of giveaways past (who looks suspiciously like Charlie McCreevy) appeared to me in a daydream?

I ran from my office. ‘What’s today, boy?’ I shouted to the newsroom at large. ‘Why, Wednesday!’ replied a confused looking journalist. ‘What year?’ ‘2013’.

‘Bah’, I said, ‘humbug’.

In an interview Mr Gilmore did with the Irish Independent this week, he “did not rule out the tax relief coming in the lifetime of the Government, although he was cautious not to make specific promises.”

Specific promises are “just what you do during elections”, you see, according to Pat Rabbitte. They’re holding the firepower until there is a more immediate need to hoodwink us.

The latest figures from the CSO on unemployment are encouraging. It’s gone below 13% for the first time since the crisis hit. The figures working (58,000 additional people in Q3 as opposed to Q2 of this year) do include those on JobBridge, which is another bit of spin, but it doesn’t change the percentage significantly. The worrying aspect of the jobs figures is that there has been no improvement among the young. To gain experience, it seems they will have to emigrate.

The fact that property prices seem to have bottomed out is positive, too, unless you want to live in a nice part of Dublin in something bigger than a shoebox. If you’re in that category, unfortunately, you will not be able to afford a house, because a sort of ‘mini bubble’ is occurring there.

The biggest bit of ‘good news’ we’ve been hearing of late is, of course, the bailout exit. This is a bit like being one of the aforementioned young people who can’t find work. You’ve moved out of home so your parents technically can’t tell you what to do any more. But living, jobless, in their garage, has its own restrictions.

Ireland’s exit from the bailout next week is equally fragile, and our lack of a safety net appears to be pure hubris on the part of a government that is overly concerned with spinning its own success. An ECB board member said yesterday that the bank will not buy Irish bonds to save us unless we enter another European Stability Mechanism aid programme. That doesn’t sound like we’ve recovered our sovereignty to me.

Things seem to be improving. That’s undeniable. Over the past couple of months, businesspeople I have spoken to have whispered that they are seeing a lift. Whispered, because it’s fragile. To borrow a phrase from another bunch of spinning supremos, ‘a lot done – more to do’.

So to hear Eamon Gilmore on every news bulletin yesterday promising tax cuts to “hardworking families” was, if nothing else, a bit rich.

As Scrooge might say, “Every idiot who goes about with ‘tax cuts’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

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