“In sooth I know not why I am so sad./ It wearies me, you say it wearies you;/ but how I caught it, found it or came by it / What stuff tis made of whereof it is born,/ I am to learn.” So opens Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” with the character Antonio experiencing what we might call today an attack of the blues.
Had Antonio been in Dail Eireann this week and last, and experienced such angst as he departed the chamber after Leaders’ Questions, he would have had no difficulty identifying its origin. The exchanges between the leaders of the two biggest right wing political parties in the State have reached a nadir of cynicism and pointlessness that is frustrating, infuriating and increasingly, plain wearying.
On Wednesday, the morning airwaves had it that a mobility allowance for people with disabilities was to be abolished by Government. Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin raised this during Leader’s questions to Taoiseach Kenny. “The decision to abolish two key allowances – the mobility allowance and the motorised transport allowance – is incomprehensible and wrong . . . . It will be a permanent cut of more than €208 per month for up to 5,000 people . . . (it) is scandalous and reprehensible.”
The Taoiseach / Fine Gael leader was waiting for him, well prepared by officials who had anticipated the question. He reached in to his folder and extracted documents referring to some years ago when Mr Martin was a senior Government Minister. Hardly able to contain his glee he began, “The Deputy has a brass neck to make a political football out of an issue which is very serious . . He sat on these benches and reduced the blind person’s allowance, not once but twice, he cut the mobility allowance and the carer’s allowance and the carer’s benefit and he removed the Christmas payment which amounted to a cut of 10%.”
A week earlier we had a similar exchange – just a different issue. The Fianna Fail leader, “The Government is in negotiations to extend the Croke Park agreement. There is growing concern that the news agreement will impose a disproportionate burden on front line workers who are rostered to work on a 24 / 7 basis. . . A nurse on an average salary of €40,000 will face a pay cut of €320 per month. These amounts are excessive.”
The Taoiseach / Fine Gael leader, “I am not at all taken by the mock anger of Deputy Martin on this matter. Everything he says these days goes back on what he signed off on. . . the reason we have to make all of these challenging decisions is because of the mess created by the Government of which Deputy Martin was a member.”
And so it goes. The leader of Fianna Fail confronting the leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach in terms almost exactly identical to those used to the Fianna Fail Taoiseach of day by the same Fine Gael leader when he was in opposition. Enda Kenny then railed against savage cuts in public sector wages and disability allowances. Now Taoiseach, he answers the current Fianna Fail leader in opposition defending the same cuts he excoriated, while it is Micheal Martin’s turn to rail against the same cuts his government imposed when he was a Minister.
When the Labour Party leader deputises for the Taoiseach, we are treated to the same show except that everyone remembers that Mr Gilmore employed even more bombastic rhetoric in the past against the policies he now implements. Government leaders are also well rehearsed to counter Sinn Fein attacks usually deploying that party’s support for the disastrous paramilitary campaign of the IRA and its current role in implementing austerity on the people of Northern Ireland on the Troika-like instructions of a Tory led government in Westminster.
Is it any wonder that so many ordinary people now look on the political establishment with unconcealed contempt? However, it is imperative that victims of the bail out / austerity programme move from hurt and anger to determined action. The wage cuts in the new Croke Park proposals are shattering for the low and middle income public sector workers. Public and private workers, with pensioners and the unemployed, will receive letters from Revenue in a few weeks demanding a property tax with menaces(legal of course). A generalised movement of opposition is demanded by the situation.
Public sector workers should push their unions to reject Croke Park. Unions opposing should have a common front of action. There should be a general boycott of the property tax and a united front of action by homeowners with trade unionised workers public and private. This is the only way these austerity attacks can be repelled and consign to irrelevancy the right wing leaders’ Punch and Judy show that masquerades as serious drama in the national parliament.