Houston, we've got a problem
Ireland should scrap its Senate and reduce its number of public representatives
Here we are facing the biggest challenge ever to the Irish economy, and through that the Irish State, and what does the government do?
Last week, as an example to us all that cutbacks are needed at every level, the number of junior ministers was reduced from 20 to 15. The total saving to the state, including office costs and drivers, is around €2 million ... at a time when state spending needs to be chopped by a few billion. Talk about moving around the deckchairs on the Titanic!
Okay, I know it was just a gesture (to show that the cuts really do start at the top) and that such symbolic moves are important if public acceptance of the drastic cutbacks that lie ahead is to be won. But even on that level it was hopeless.
For a start, most people think that our junior ministers are a waste of space and that they should all be scrapped. All they do is go to events that their senior ministers can't be bothered attending. Their number expanded over the past few decades mainly as a way of placating backbenchers who had not become ministers.
If the government was serious about making a gesture proportional to the crisis we face, it would have scrapped all the junior ministers plus the Senate (the upper house of the Irish parliament) which is a Land of Nod luxury we can no longer afford.
While they were at it, they could also have announced that at the next election the number of members of the Dail, the main house in the Irish Parliament, was being reduced to the same level of representatives per head of population as in Britain, which would cut the size of the Dail in half.
And if we were really serious about getting our state spending under control, we would also be asking ourselves if a little country with about the same population as the city of Houston needs, say, a full size army or a diplomatic service with fancy embassies in major capitals around the world.
Now I know those Texas boys think big, but the last I heard Houston did not have its own army, or its own ambassadors overseas, or any of the other costly trappings that Ireland feels it must have because it is a country, not a city.
Of course, I'm not being entirely serious about this. The fact is that Ireland is a country, not a city.
But it is also a fact that our population (which is similar to that of the Houston metropolitan area) has to carry the cost of all the stuff that goes with being an independent state, from the president to the Irish Navy and everything in between, including government departments with thousands of civil servants and all the rest of it.
So if the Irish government was really serious about making cuts to get state spending back in line with our collapsed tax revenues, there are many, many areas they could go into. Instead, we have the farce of the firing of five junior ministers.
And even that did not have the desired effect because it was buried by the news at the end of last week that former ministers who are still members of the Dail are to keep the ministerial pensions which they get on top of their Dail salaries. The government had promised to stop this nonsense (the former ministers get the generous pensions straight away, not when they are 65!) but now says there are legal complications.