When it comes to the Budget people don’t forget

Many years ago, a friend of mine named Anthony recalled canvassing for the Labour Party in a rural area in Co Galway during one of the general election in the 1970s or early 1980s.

During their canvass, Anthony and the two other men with him, came upon an isolated farm and sought to call in and drop some leaflets. They had just reached the gate and were about to make their way up to the house when the owner - an elderly farmer - appeared at the door.

He demanded to know what they were doing on his land. They told him they were canvassing for the general election. At the mention of the word election, the farmer whipped out a double barrel rifle.

“Get off my land!” he roared. “I’m not having ye here! Ye tried to take a shilling off the old age pension and depriving the elderly of their money!”

Anthony tried to explain to the farmer that it was Fine Gael (or Cumann na nGaedhael as they were at the time ) who took the shilling off the pension and that he and his companions were from Labour.

“Communists!” roared the farmer who started advancing towards them with rifle in hand, before running at them with the gun pointed, all the while shouting about pensions and Soviets. The canvassers got the hint and got out of there.

Anthony is now a school teacher in Galway and these days is able to laugh at the incident. However he made the fascinating point that the incident showed that while people are willing to overlook notorious follies like e-voting, attempted budgetary cuts to benefits for the elderly or vulnerable will stick long in the mind of the public and will never be forgiven.

Ernest Blythe’s notorious pension cut was restored four years later. John Bruton’s tax on children’s shoes and removal of food subsidies was a budget proposal which was never implemented.

That does not matter - the fact that such moves were sought to be introduced was enough to earn the measures and the men who proposed them infamy.

No matter that Fianna Fáil have reversed the medical cards decision, no matter that they have readjusted the one per cent levy to protect the lower paid, people will not forget that they tried to introduce it. The continuing anger of the elderly over the medical cards, despite Tuesday’s U-turn is indicative.

Fianna Fáilers are not likely to be chased by shotgun wielding farmers next summer but the affect of Budget 09 - U-turns or not - mean FF candidates on the canvass are likely to receive as savage a reception as the Christians in Rome.

Just consider what one Fianna Fáil city councillor told me this week: “People have been coming up to me all weekend and saying ‘I’m never voting for FF again’. I know people say that all the time and come back to you but I hear a meaning and sincerity in their voice I haven’t heard before. Make no mistake this will cost us in June.”

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