In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy asks Would Jesus burn the Bondholders?

AS THE government faces its first budget, it does so in a very fragile global and national economic crisis.  Our hands are literally tied, and our tune is called by the International Monetary Fund. The loss of sovereignty over our economy means that, ultimately, we are controlled and governed outside of any democratic mandate. This is a most serious and precarious place in which we find ourselves.   It now seems certain that the Department of Social Protection will bear the brunt of cuts in next month’s budget, accounting for €700 million of the €2.2 billion reductions in expenditure. Cuts in the department’s budget will account for a third of all expenditure adjustments.   Social protection is the government’s biggest spending department, paying welfare, pensions and benefits to 1.4 million people, with an annual budget of €21 billion.   Just two weeks ago, the government signed off on a €700 million payout to Anglo Irish Bank bond holders. In my opinion, and that of many other Irish citizens, this is an absolute disgrace. A policy of austerity and draconian cutbacks, in the context of guaranteeing the bad debt by Anglo Irish Bank’s greed and shocking financial regulation, is a disgrace.

Repeatedly, I have drawn attention to a serious concern for all Christians: there must be a sense of justice and protection of our most vulnerable citizens, while working within the tightrope of budgetary deficits. The easiest group to punish are the very people who have never benefited from the greed and wealth generated by the Celtic Tiger. It is easy to punish the vulnerable, the unemployed, the elderly, the sick and children – but they need to be protected. Every budget since 2008 has severely punished the most fragile in our society.

Visit any primary or secondary school in the country and witness the devastating effects of unjust economics. Children who are already disadvantaged have been punished with devastating cutbacks – with fewer special needs assistants and diminishing resource and language support. Children whose adult lives will always be disadvantaged as a result of such punishment. Surely, in the Christian context, this is a time to share the burden of pain. The rich get richer and the poor become even more disadvantaged.

Would Jesus burn the bond holders? In the name of protecting the most disadvantaged, and challenging greed and materialism, I am certain He would. The Christian story is not just a nice, feelgood holy thought. It must be integrated to our economic and political perspective. I was delighted to see the Archbishop of Westminster in solidarity with those protesting daily about the state of the economy outside of St Paul’s Cathedral in London recently.

While Jesus befriended the tax collectors, He always challenged their attitude, resulting in a change of heart. Zacheus said: “I will give back three times all the money I have swindled from the poor.”

These days are the most difficult – a time when a new vision and understanding needs to be embraced. I pray that Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens will not be punished most in next month’s budget.