14 December 2010

The winter of despair

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way." - Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
The two cities in question these last few days being Dublin and London, and it has indeed been both the best and the worst of recent times, at both a national and at a very personal level.

Let us first dispense with items of a national import. What can we say about the budget that has not all ready been written about at length? There were no major surprises in what was announced on the day, the Government had clearly signaled its draconian intents the week previously as part of its plan to appease our new IMF masters, however once the numbers started to be examined in more detail* something rather startling began to emerge, it would appear that not only will the budget affect those on lower incomes disproportionately more, those at the other end of the income spectrum, particularly those self-employed individuals earning more than €200,000, will actually be paying less tax than before.

Tom McDonnell over on TASC's Progressive Economy blog produced the table above, which uses Deloitte's 2011 Tax Calculator and the Government's own income and pension contribution models to show that on average a single self-employed individual earning more than €200,000 will in fact be better off under this budget, with those earning more than €1 Million paying over 5% less tax than last year. Given the fact that our current economic crash was caused by these self-same high net-worth individuals in the private sector, the injustice of further rewarding them for their actions while simultaneously cutting the minimum wage by €1 should send people out into the streets to condemn this Government in the loudest possible way.

Which is exactly what I did.

Tuesday saw me brave the chill of winter and the glare of the cameras and take up position outside the Dail with a small group of friends armed only with our trusty (and somewhat rusty) pots and pans, and for close to four hours while the budget was being debated inside we joined with up to a hundred others outside making as much noise as possible, surprisingly rhythmically at times, and coming perilously close to being a drumming circle, continuously banging pots, pans, plastic barrels and whatever else came to hand and made a satisfyingly loud bang. Based on the Icelandic Pots and Pans protests (though this being Ireland, with nothing like the numbers seen in Reykjavik) that brought down their government, this was an attempt to give people an opportunity to protest outside of the political system, with no speeches, no leaders, no party newspapers being foisted upon you or placards being thrust into your hands**. This was just a group of ordinary women, men and children, citizens all, who really have had enough, and it was a welcome alternative to the depressingly larger horde of Shinners on the other side of the street whose mob-like behaviour culminated in an old man in a cloth cap being chased down Kildare Street, with bottles and sticks being hurled at him, all because they thought he was Jackie Healy-Rae.

Somehow in the midst of all the noisy chaos I even managed to be interviewed by "Morning Ireland" without sounding like too much of a reactionary idiot***, which was nice.

But this moment of national defiance was overshadowed for me by events of a personal nature happening elsewhere. An injury to a loved one abroad became the main focus of my attention for the last week, contrasting sharply with the more joyous preparations for my sister's wedding in London. The two events overlapped, somewhat unsuccessfully, on Saturday, but, as became the phrase of the week, "It is what it is", and nothing more could be done than was done. As I sit here this morning all injured parties are now safely at home and on the mend with a full recovery predicted, and the happy couple are now on the other side of the world en route to a honeymoon of hiking in New Zealand, the next stage of their voyage together begun.

And so my attention can return, once again, to our ongoing national nightmare, and whatever joy and light we may wrest from it.

* TASC have a great analysis of the 2011 budget, a summary can be read online here, or the full and comprehensive report (.pdf) downloaded here.

** For more info on the protest, and to find out more about future events, you can check out their Facebook page. Yes, I know, I'm sorry, but they don't seem to have any other website. *sigh*.

*** Yes, I know I say "Five Year Plan" in the broadcast - while it is still officially a four year plan, we have been given an extra year to hit all our agreed targets - I clarified that afterwards but it didn't seem to make the edit. Oh well. As I said, I don't sound too much like a reactionary idiot.

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At 4:12 pm, Blogger spewbuntu said...

Video from the pots n pans demo:


At 4:35 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

as somebody said to me, have you ever seen a more bored looking group of protestors?


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