Cowen’s Napoleonic 100 days

The shock of Ireland’s economic collapse has abated. The anger is now starting to gain heat. It is disingenuous of the Government to repeat the mantra that now is not the time to look back and apportion blame, but to look forward to ways in which we can arise again. As we are all taught through the history books, it is only by looking back that we can learn and move forward. Half-hearted apologies by the Taoiseach Brian Cowen, prompted only by the prodding of RTE’s Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show, do no appear to wash with the electorate. Who will hold their hands up, be accountable, and take the rap?

The Government has now re-coined our near future “the 100 days” as Nama, the Commission on Taxation, Lisbon, and the forthcoming Budget will be determined. An Taoiseach had every reason to be sitting uncomfortably on the edge of his seat on Friday night - his public persona is that of someone who has been flying by the seat of his pants for months - and that is starting to take its toll on the nation’s patience, hopes, and faith. Anger and disillusionment are mounting, as is the growing fear that no one really knows what to do - except tax the electorate more and more.

Then there’s Lisbon. A Yes vote should be expected - better in these dire economic times to continue hitching our wagon to the European train where at least there is some leadership shown, but there are real fears of yet another backlash against the Government.

Nama is another story, particularly for the thousands of people who lost life savings, the hundreds of thousands now unemployed (12.2 per cent in July ), parents not only struggling with back-to-school costs but the prospect of having their child benefit cut and paying for their children’s third level education, and it is those children who will probably still be paying throughout their lifetime for the bankers who propped up developers, fuelled by greed. Some 40 per cent of people do not support Nama; 36 per cent do not have an opinion, yet 38 per cent are opposed to nationalisation. Confusion reigns.

This week the Commission on Taxation was released - although commissioned pre collapse, it is now an inevitable consequence. Back then it was about establishing a broader and fairer tax system rather than simply collecting revenue, but if implemented it is expected families could face an increase of €4,000 in tax - in addition to the one per cent levy and various tax changes already imposed. The report boasts some radical changes - some of which will be accepted by the public. A return to property tax since rates were abolished will hurt those who recently paid stamp duty for over-priced property, but such a property tax (like business rates ) should be administered by local councils - not central government. A water tax for conservation purposes might be sound, but in a country with rainfall likes ours, many will be tempted to put the buckets outside when the metres are turned on. Making workers pay PRSI on all income, and the loss of tax reliefs on service charges, and union subscriptions are acceptable if income tax is broadened.

Galway Labour councillor Billy Cameron is right when he says there is real anger among the public about the extent of taxation the Government expects them to pay. He believes, like many commentators, that with hostility rising, it could well prompt people to “ take to the streets”.

An Taoiseach could do well to remember the most famous 100 day war. Sometimes known as the Hundred Days of Napoleon, it marked the period between Napoleon Bonaparte's return from exile on Elba to Paris and the last conflict in the Napoleonic Wars - his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

Linley MacKenzie

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