Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

The public understands that road we must travel will contain a few bumps

The long process of doom-laden Budget speculation and analysis has been more dramatic this year, fuelled by arguments that this Budget would be the worst-ever, reinforced by the familiar hysteria in the media that the outcome would shake Ireland to its political foundations and nothing would be the same again.

Fine Gael and Labour would not hold together. The right and the left were stalking in opposite directions and it was only a matter of time before the Coalition would fall apart. Confidence would be lost irretrievably. The centre would not hold. Things would undoubtedly fall apart. All we needed was the ghost of William Butler Yeats to arise from whichever grave his bones lie in and take the blame – 'Did words of mine. . ?'

It did not happen. The biggest furore focused on a small minority of people whose carers' allowance had been reduced. Personally, I have the greatest sympathy with them. Care is a vital necessity for those of my generation and I speak with some authority when I say that my own experience of the HSE and the State in this area is one of admiration and gratitude. A good set of systems is in place. There have been cuts and there will be more cuts.

A caring and concerned public health service, because of more cuts, is now working under stresses that cannot be sustained and are probably far worse in rural Ireland than in urban communities. More is to be done by Joan Burton and James Reilly who preside over systems under greater threat than ever.

Those who take on care within their own families are a different case and have been shabbily treated.

They should, with possibly a closer checking process, have the cuts restored.

I feel the same about cuts in children's allowances which to parents known to me are unbearably harsh.

On another personal note I refer to the property tax to which I will contribute in the higher level because of my age and good fortune in having been able to buy, more than four decades ago, a sizable house.

This is now to bear a significant tax.

I have promoted for some years the restoration of a property tax, using self-assessment until such time as we have restored a proper rating system.

It will be difficult for many people. It would be less contentious if based on the finite measure of size rather than the speculative one of value.

It requires urgent attention to the fact that if almost 30pc of AIB mortgage holders are in arrears how can the property tax work? It is, however, an appropriate restored tax.

We have a very high level of unemployment, an unacceptable level of emigration, a great deal of poverty, of households that cannot manage, of comforts that have been lost or curtailed.

Yet apart from minor scuffles there was no outbreak of popular fury because the grounds for it were not there.

I spent the last days of this week checking with people on what they felt and discovering acquiescence without too much rancour.

A telling comment came from someone who simply said 'it is the Budget', in total acceptance.

In other areas I would use the word 'rancour' deliberately. It means 'inveterate bitterness, malignant hate, spitefulness'. These were present from the opposition benches in the Dail and from some of the more intemperate commentators. Having discounted them, and turned elsewhere, the mood was rather different.

Mr Noonan and Mr Howlin presented their cases – the differences distinguished by separate appearances in order not to lose the shared impact of two parties with different views and philosophies – without losing the collective burden they have to bear.

We are here to pay the necessary taxes.

The public know it is a necessity, and know, at least in part, where the main blame lies for what we face as a nation, and are relatively satisfied with the road we now have to travel.

I disagree with two of my colleagues. Firstly, Fionnan Sheahan strictures on Fine Gael for its growing arrogance together with the identification of a profound sense of vulnerability within Labour.

Secondly, with James Downey, who feels that the Government has lost the confidence of the people without any medium-term hope of regaining it.

Of course Fine Gael has become arrogant. It did better in the last election than ever it has done before.

Labour has broken many of its pre-election promises. It failed to get additional taxes placed on those with over €100,000 salaries.

It also u-turned on education fees and vows to protect the most vulnerable.

However, it should be remembered Labour had a choice. It could have stood outside the Coalition, with greater freedom and flexibility, making it more powerful.

On the radical left Sinn Fein has the greater credibility as an opposition; while Fianna Fail is still a long way from restoration as the mess it made of things is still in the public mind, still to be laid at the door of the party's leadership.

This makes Fine Gael and Labour still good for future governance. To have achieved that outcome after what we have been through as a society since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger is extraordinary. Not to recognise this reality, as opposed to the hall of mirrors into which the more lunatic fringe invites us to enter, is an example of the 'Alice in Wonderland' world we are continuing to skirt around in favour of pragmatic realism.