03 December 2008

We are living beyond our Means

Brian Lenihan (photo), our Minister for Finance, says that we are living beyond our means. And of course he is right.

In fact, we have been living well beyond our means for years now.
And we all were heavily encouraged to do so by his party, the government he is part of, and the whole orchestra of Irish banks, industry, retailers and media.

Only a few silly old-fashioned fools like me, for whom traditional values are still important, did not participate in the gigantic spending spree of the 'Celtic Tiger' years.

I was mocked for not going on two or three foreign holidays each year, and some people think I am 'dull' because I do not get drunk every weekend like many of my compatriots do.

I cannot remember how many times I was offered to buy a newly built apartment - "as an investment" - or to spend good money on some 'holiday home' in Bulgaria. There were offers to invest in a golf resort on the Algarve in Portugal, and when I told the man that I like Portugal, but hate golf, he looked at me like some child that has seen the real Santa Claus.

No, I did not fall for the bubble, as I could see for years that it would not last, the way Irish people were behaving and spending as if there was no tomorrow. Our banks encouraged us to do even more, offering ever more loans and credit cards, even to people with little or no regular income.

Until this summer I did receive at least one "pre-approved" offer of a new credit card in my e-mail each week. Sometimes there were more. Had I been a scoundrel, I could have taken them all, used them to their limit, and then just moved on. Some people have done that, and now they have no idea how to get on with their lives. They see debt counsellors and stress counsellors, and heaven knows how many other specialist counsellors for whom the taxpayers' foot the bill.
Some others simply emigrate and leave their financial millstones behind in Ireland. Well, in fact they put them around our necks, as we - those who remain here - will have to share the burden, no matter how large it is.

I like openness, and when a minister comes out and tells us the plain truth, straight to our face, I really appreciate it. So - thank you Brian Lenihan, thanks for telling us as it is.

The only little problem I have with it is that it was your predecessor (who is now the Taoiseach) and his great mentor Bertie - the 'cute fellow' - who told everyone to spend, spend, spend, as we "never had it so good".
It was your party Fianna Fáil that inherited the infant 'Celtic Tiger' in 1997 from the 'Rainbow coalition'. Instead of treating him well and feeding him carefully but modestly, you overfed him with greasy chips, bags of crisps and bags of sweets. Thus you created a monster that grew too fast and in the wrong way. And before you knew it, this monster devoured the economy, and then imploded.

So, Mr. Lenihan, I hope you don't mind me saying that you have quite some brass neck making such a statement. I presume you have heard the phrase about those sitting in glass houses, and what they should do - or better not do - with stones...

Yes, we are living beyond our means, at least most of us. And as a country we definitely do, thanks to eleven years of Fianna Fail in government. It is good that someone important has the guts to say it openly and in public. But now your government, Mr. Lenihan, and especially your department, should begin to give a good leading example we all can follow.
  • Stop wasting any more taxpayers' money on projects and things nobody wants and needs.
  • Cut the princely expenses accounts of ministers, TDs and senior civil servants.
  • Stop the lavish lifestyle your government got used to during the boom times.
  • Instruct the Revenue Commissioners to claw back the money that 'fat cats' like Rody Molloy took out of the taxpayers' coffer and used it on themselves while mixing with stars and millionaires in Florida.
This would be a start. And then you could cut all salaries of TDs, Senators, Ministers and that of the Taoiseach himself by 50%. That should give you a lot of extra money, plus a lot of popularity around the country.

You are right, we are living beyond our means as a nation, especially one with very few natural resources. But no-one in Ireland lives more beyond their means than our government.

By now you must know that we are a trusty lot, not too bright and not too critical. We followed you into the spending spree, and as you led the way, we even followed you into the recession.
Be sure we will follow you out of it again, if you know the way and go ahead as fine example.

You do know the way out of the crisis, I hope... If not, we can start thinking of eight songs, because then we are all doomed on a desert island.

The Emerald Islander

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