The dizzying scale of Irish debt as finally revealed by the financial and state authorities yesterday will have no doubt left most of us reeling from shock and anger. Already dubbed ‘Black Thursday’, the figure of more than €35 billion now defined as the outer limits of what we must raise in order to pay off government liabilities, is staggering. The news of a further €3 billion bail-out required for AIB, that will effectively nationalise the country’s largest bank with money taken from our own National Reserve Pension Fund, can only be described as sickening. Coming one on top of the other in the face of the international markets deeming Ireland a no-confidence zone, it feels like we are just being socked in the stomach over and over again. How many more body blows can we endure?
Well, apparently, according to expert analysts now filling our airwaves, breaking point has been reached. The good people of Ireland can take no more pain. We have it up to our necks. Our personal budgets have been slashed to the extreme. There is little or nothing left to cut. From modest living to austerity measures, what we are looking at now is hand to mouth living.
This devastating state of affairs is particularly keenly felt by those of us resident in the west of Ireland as it comes just days after our regional health authority announced additional and immediate rigorous cut-backs to existing health services. Between now and December - a mere three months - a total of €50 million is to be slashed from the HSE West budget, which literally represents money that will not be spent to provide or fund health services. In addition to culling of services formerly deemed essential but now seen as ‘extras’, staff and particularly those on temporary working contracts, are to have their working hours drastically reduced.
This is not just gloom and doom but the reality of life in Ireland right now, where just about everything is focused on making savings. Naturally people are more concerned than ever about the future and for the 20 per cent of the workforce employed in the public sector - one time the home of safe, pensionable, permanent jobs - there is now real fear that entire organisations and authorities will simply be wiped from the slates. Local bodies such as Mayo County Enterprise Board and the local councils in Castlebar/Westport and Ballina, have already vocalised such concerns, and this week we learn that Údarás na Gaeltachta, now facing a massive budget cut, not only feels its future existence is threatened, but also the state Department governing it.
Amid this continuing saga of our descent into financial ruin as we head towards yet another severe cost-cutting budget in two months time, there simply has to be hope. Much of the talk from government authorities in this regard recently has referred to the ‘Smart Economy’ and the huge potential it offers for global success.
Such talk has unsurprisingly been rubbished by many as meaning nothing to the common worker who simply wants a 9-5 day job on the home turf in order to survive, but the facts are there simply are few or no jobs on the ground.
Fortunately for Mayo there is a thriving entrepreneurial culture in the community and this was evident more than ever this week throughout the extremely useful and inspiring Mayo Business Week. Some excellent contributors here confirmed that there is very much a future - and indeed a brilliant future at that - open to each and every one of us - contingent only on one thing - the internet. With more and more of the world population now doing business and connecting with others online, the door is wide open for all to get on board and start selling. Millions of potential customers are out there just waiting to spend their money. We can develop international brands right from our bedrooms. The jobs are still here. We just need to get our heads around selling to a new audience - the global market - and the possibility of creating some good-news zero digits for a change - in our own bank accounts.
Acting Editor [email protected]