Jul 222009
Brian Lenihan (Irish minister of finance)

Image by nerosunero via Flickr

Sometimes, even in this hyper-connected age of instant communication and networked everything, the world outside my little bubble passes me by. It happened again over the last few weeks.

Busy rising to the daily challenges of the working parent, I somehow managed to miss the speculation, commentary and excitement on the “An Bord Snip Nua” report and the recommended public spending cuts it contained.

It might have something to do with the ludicrous name. No matter the gravity of the Special Advisory Group’s proposals, calling an advisory body on spending cuts “Bord Snip” makes it very hard to take it seriously.

But there’s no doubt the cuts the group advocate are deadly serious. One of the recommendations that’s causing particular consternation among parents is the proposal to universally cut child benefit. The An Bord Snip report says: “Further savings of €513m should be achieved by effecting a 20% reduction in the Child Benefit payments.”

Continue reading »

Jan 102009
Batt O'Keeffe
Image via Wikipedia

With the excitement of Christmas and New Year behind us the kids are gearing up to going back to school. Their partly looking forward to seeing their friends again, and partly mourning the fact that the holidays are coming to a close.

I can sympathise with them, in part because I still recall the conflicting emotions of going back to school after the Christmas break from my own childhood… but mainly because of the clash of sentiments it causes for me now as a parent.

Back to school means back to routine: getting up early, making school lunches (a personal pet peeve of mine), organising the kids, getting out of the door on time. The return to school imposes structure on the fluidity of life… and on one level that’s a good thing. At the same time structure and routine are always going to be more boring and mundane than disorder and spontaneity, and part of me riles against the conformity of it all.

But back to school they must go… and while spending lots of time with them over the holidays has been wonderful, for the most part I’ll be happy to reclaim the bulk of my working week as we head into what promises to be a very challenging year.

Talking of challenging years, I guess I should be grateful that the children have a school to go back to in 2009, given the cutbacks our esteemed Government is imposing on our education system. Faced with the cost-cutting initiatives spearheaded by Cork TD and Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe, financially embattled schools across the country are facing a very tough 2009 on the fiscal front, and will no doubt be looking to parents for fundraising and direct financial contributions. The Government will bail out the banks, it seems, but bailing out the schools falls to mums and dads.

I’m all for parents getting involved and raising money for schools — but for my money (if you’ll pardon the pun) such funds should surely go towards equipment, facilities and resources over and above those demanded by the standard national curriculum. Schools should be adequately funded by Government to cover all of the basics. When parents have to raise money to subsidise things like the school’s heating bill there’s something seriously wrong with the system.

Nobody questions the need to cut Government spending in the wake of the economic downturn, but the approach the Government has taken speaks volumes about the character of those we choose to lead us. When the going got tough, they  chose to target the most vulnerable in society: the very old and the very young, or to put it another way, those least likely to fight back. Of course they underestimated the backlash (they seem to underestimate most things, with the notable exception of their own competence to govern).

The irony here is that health and education are probably two of the last places a Government should look to reduce funding: the first is vital to maintaining a healthy and productive workforce today, a workforce that will help our beleaguered economy push through the recession; the second is the foundation stone on which all future prosperity will be built.

Now, Mr O’Keefe, perhaps you can explain to parents, teachers, and most of all to children, how undermining the stability of that foundation could possibly be considered a good idea.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Oct 082008
Population density map of Ireland showing the ...

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

I’m already sick of hearing about Ireland’s headlong nose-dive into recession. Between that and calamity in the world’s financial markets the doom mongers out there are having a field day.

Life as we know it is about to end apparently. Except of course that it probably isn’t. Nowhere near it, in fact.

I’ll stick my neck out here and make a shocking prediction: life for the vast majority of people in Ireland will carry on pretty much the same as before – through this recession and out the other side. Macro economic cycles come and go – and on one level, yes, they can change things pretty dramatically. But the fundamentals of life tend to stay pretty constant.

The challenges we face as a family with young children in Ireland today are, strangely enough, much the same challenges as we faced when the Celtic Tiger was in full roar. Recession or boom, families still have to juggle children, manage a household, cope with demanding jobs, make the mortgage payments, put three square meals a day on the table, cover childcare costs that are the most exorbitant in Europe, and a lot more besides. There’s always too much to do, and too little time. What’s changed?

Okay, if you’re a person who likes to splurge you may have to reign in your spending a bit, but is that really going to alter your life in any significant way? I was listening to a guest on a radio show this morning who’s recession busting plan was to stop getting her car valeted every Saturday morning. Hardly a life-changing sacrifice, is it?

Despite all the doom and gloom I suspect that for most of us life in economic recession will continue pretty much as usual. There might be a bit of belt-tightening going on… but is that such a bad thing?

As a nation we’ve been spending beyond our means for far too long, availing of the hefty credit being offered to us. Being forced to really think about what we choose to spend our money on, and training ourselves to only spend what we actually have might come as a bit of a shock to the system for some – but it’s a shock that’s long overdue.

There was a guy on a treadmill on the “Late Late Show” last Friday urging people to run for Africa. He put this recession obsession of ours into stark perspective when he pointed out that, compared to the people in east Africa he was raising money for, our concerns were pretty trivial.

Of course there will be people who are hit hard by the economic downturn, and the inevitable cuts and levies imposed by the government as they attempt to re-float a scuppered economy. The recession will bite hard for some, and that’s unfortunate. I don’t want to belittle their suffering, but the truth is that for the the majority it will be business as usual, recession or no.

I guess what it boils down to is that we worry too much – and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. We’re constantly dwelling on the past and fretting about the future, when for many of us the present really isn’t all that bad, if we’d only learn to pay it a bit more attention.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]