Almost €350 million [£315 million] is to be paid out in 2010 to some of the wealthiest business people in the Twenty-Six Counties in ‘dole’ payments – an increase of over €100 million [£90 million] on last year’s figures.
You can slap yourself across the face but this isn’t a nightmare. The blind, those on social welfare, teachers, nurses and other public servants will all have their incomes cut but, at the same time, they and every other working person will have to pay taxes to subsidise the business class. After all, now is hardly the time to ask Ireland’s elite to abandon their SUVs, their trophy homes or their expensive tastes in clothing. They preach to us about their entrepreneurial spirit while keeping their hands out for our money.
The Irish Business and Employers Confederation [IBEC], the Small Firms Association [SFA] and the Construction Industry Federation [CIF] were cheerleaders for the recent budget cuts for everyone else while continuing to be the real scroungers in Irish society.
Recent media reports have highlighted the fact that the Twenty-Six County government has increased its harassment of members of the public receiving social welfare payments. Figures recently made available show that, by the end of September 2009, almost 900 cases were at various stages of the prosecution process. Another 20 cases were finalised in court, while a further 200 cases have been forwarded to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office to initiate legal proceedings. Now, plans have been announced to set up roadblocks to harass those on social welfare.
The Twenty-Six County state has also deployed its media wing in the form of RTÉ whose Primetime Investigates has tried to further demonise the poorest in Irish society. The advertising blurb for a recent edition claimed how “An undercover investigation exposes the increasing number of welfare cheats who are ripping-off the Irish taxpayer”. However, instead of any serious investigation or analysis, viewers were actually treated to a glut of tabloid-style sensationalist journalism.
The question isn’t whether one fifth of one per cent of all those on the Live Register in the Twenty-Six Counties are ‘defrauding’ the state but how any politician can stand over funding ‘private enterprise’ while ordinary taxpayers are seeing their incomes fall by up to 20 per cent.
The figures are there for all to see in the budget and, yet, the cosy consensus that is Irish politics has failed to even mention it. Irish capitalism isn’t about enterprise or job creation. It is really about transferring wealth from the majority who create it to the minority who spend it. In the current recession, some payments to business have actually increased; IDA Ireland provided €70 million [£63 million] in grants to privately owned firms in 2009 and the Budget 2010 plans to expand these payments to a whopping €85 million [£76 million] – an increase of 21 per cent.
Enterprise Ireland is another body which subsidises the captains of Irish industry. In 2009, the body paid out €100 million to the business class and, while this is to fall to €92 million [£83 million] in 2010, that is more than compensated for by the increases in other areas. The Shannon Free Development Airport Company Limited, which funds private business in the mid-west, has seen its funding jump from €700,000 [£630,000] to a cool €5 million [£4.5 million] for eager capitalists. Other bodies, such as County Enterprise Boards and Intertrade Ireland, are doling out tens of millions of euro to entrepreneurs in need.
The most shocking of all the proposals is the Temporary Employment Subsidy Scheme. This is a programme whereby private business has part of its wage bill paid by the exchequer. None of these state-funded capitalists offered to help the Dublin government by paying extra taxes during the boom years. Now, the tax-payer is expected to subsidise the same people who exploit workers all over the country.
The Twenty-Six County government introduced the Subsidy Scheme last year and paid out €20 million [£18 million]. In 2010, it plans to spend a massive €114 million [£102 million] in subsidising private businesses without any hope of recouping the money. The most frightening thing is that this surreal initiative isn’t being challenged by what passes for Ireland’s centre left alternative. The Labour Party and Sinn Féin have, respectively, proposed to expand this fund to last for a number of years and to cost either €700 or €600 million [£630 or £540 million].
This increase in the transfer of wealth to those at the top of Irish society has been greeted with glee by the business class.
The director general of IBEC Danny McCoy said: “This budget is a turning point as it stops the deficit rising and puts Ireland on a sustainable path. The right thing to do was the hard thing to do and the right thing has been done. Confidence can now be restored both to consumers and to international investors. To get the country back to work, the public finances need to be stabilised without further major increases in taxation. It is of critical importance that we make the necessary correction now, rather than dragging it out over many years.”
The correction McCoy refers to is massive cuts in pay for civil servants while his members get money doled out to them.
In the lead up to the Twenty-Six County budget, McCoy’s bedfellow, the director of the Small Firms Association Patricia Callan said that, “The promised €4bn expenditure cuts will have to be delivered by government… there needs to be a decrease in pay and conditions of employment and a reduction in numbers employed in the public sector.”
Strong words indeed from a representative of a class that perpetually sponges off the very workers it exploits on a daily basis.
When the figures above are taken into account, it is clear that, if the political will existed, the Dublin government could have produced a budget that protected public services and the social and economic rights of working people. Instead, it chose to go to war on them.