Things are heating up - not necessarily in terms of the upcoming festive season - or indeed in regard to outside temperatures, but just in a general sense. After the historic events of the week - the lacklustre Taoiseach State-of-the-nation address on Sunday followed by the half-and-half ‘slash and burn’ budget over Monday and Tuesday, a new force is building. It is not a positive force. The momentous proceedings of the past week put paid to any chance of positive people-power being harnessed. If anything, the spirit is sapped.
It is too early to say whether this movement, this psychological shift, could go so far as to become a rebellion. The good people of Ireland have not so far resorted to revolt against the continuing waves of hardship and austerity washing over them; they have stood firm, resilient, martyred to the recession cause even.
But now this week, we learn we must endure even more financial hits - reduced child benefit, increased VAT, increased motor tax, hikes in petrol and diesel, a flat €100 euro household charge, increased Capital Acquisition and Capital Gains Tax, increased DIRT on savings, new age restrictions on one parent family payments, cuts in the fuel allowance period/Community Employment and Back to Education allowances, drug payment threshold hikes, cuts in school capital grants/post-grad grants and maintenance grants, increased college fees, reduced student maintenance grants, increased pupil teacher ratios, reduced Youthreach, Community Training and Fás course allowances, doubling of school transport charge for primary school child from €50 to €100 - the list goes on.
Counter-measures, designed to provide some balance, such as increased mortgage interest relief for first-time buyers or the higher income exemption for USC, pale to insignificance against these continuing levies, which are hitting now in a physical sense. The reality is we feel sick to our stomachs. Reinforced austerity measures have us flailing about for survival. It feels like we are in a desperate struggle to keep our heads above water, while our feet paddle like mad below just to stay afloat.
With things so bad on the home front, further insult is being added to injury abroad, where, not only do we find Europe perpetually wagging its finger in our direction but, this week, we must also witness UK Prime Minister David Cameron hopping up and down in the House of Commons as Britain loses the rag, issuing warnings to not even dare consider Treaty changes - and they not even in the European Union!
Meanwhile, drip-drip feeds coming our way from Brussels suggest the EU not only intends to make Treaty changes, but plans to achieve this through unaminous MEP agreements, which will bypass any need for a democratic referendum; and first item on the table, apparently, courtesy of French Prime Minister Monsieur Sarkozy, is the demand to standardise corporate tax rates - Ireland’s main selling point for attracting multinationals.
With 2011 coming to an end and a brand new year looming large, there is at least a sense of new beginnings ahead. Right now it is all about Christmas, with the emphasis on enjoying family time more than ever with children and loved ones. At the same time this year’s so-called ‘festive season’ looks set to be a much quieter event in terms of retail shopping. Even though people are busy milling about doing what it is they have to do as part of the inevitable Christmas rush, there is stagnation in the market, with window-shopping featuring more strongly than ever.
This Christmas will be an especially poignant time for those families set to lose sons, daughters or parents to the ongoing emigration wave that the ESRI predicts will claim 40,000 more of our citizens in 2012. All those planning to leave for distant, more prosperous shores, must now be wished well on their way. Life outside of Ireland is now a serious option worth considering.