Cutbacks in services and increases in taxes would be a little more palatable to the general public if those who make the decisions were seen to be taking their share of the pain.

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Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist.

This column appeared on 22 April 2009

Our politicians must recognise the symbolic importance of their being willing to sacrifice some of the considerable financial benefits they enjoy, in a context where we are told all areas of public expenditure must make savings.

At this time, we need to ask: does the effective functioning of Government require that all TDs be paid 50,000 a year in untaxed, unvouched expenses at a total of about 30 million per annum? Is the payment of additional allowances to Chairpersons and Vice Chairpersons of Oireachtas Committees justified?
Much of the economic crisis that now besets the country is the result of global forces over which we have no control. But if we are honest we have to acknowledge that some of our woes may be rightly labelled, Made in Ireland’.

In a speech on 2 October 2008, the Taoiseach, Brian Cowan TD, said: There is no doubt that this is a defining moment in our nation’s history.’ The question is how will this time be defined? What values will shape this period of our history – those that represent self-interest and sectional concerns, or those which reflect the common good and the protection of the weakest?

Over the next two years, at a minimum, sacrifices will have to be made and people’s lives will be affected by these. Both Irish society as a whole and the Irish Government must address the questions: Which sacrifices?’ and Whose lives?’ As we seek to resolve this economic crisis, are we committed to defending the interests and welfare of those in greatest need, and to generating revenue and making savings from those who can best afford it? Will those who benefited hugely from the Celtic Tiger be asked to give up some of their gains to ensure that the situation of people on low incomes and dependent on services is not made worse? Is our Government going to take the easy option and defer to those who can complain most loudly, or quietly use their political influence to protect their position, with the result that cutbacks will fall on those who have no voice and are unlikely to vote?

More broadly, part of the challenge of this defining moment’ is to engage in serious debate about the overarching political and economic philosophies that should guide us through the current recession and into the future.

The ideology – pervasive for the last three decades – that government should have no role, or no more than a minimal one, in regulating the market is now giving way in the face of the global economic crisis. The wisdom of the maxim, the market is a good servant but a very bad master’, is being acknowledged by an increasing number of people.

There is now a window of opportunity to re-assert that equality, fairness and sustainability have to be at the centre of our definition of development, and to debate in a more open way the balance required between business enterprise and State intervention, and between individual opportunity and collective responsibility, in achieving progress.