Budget day. There's nothing like it in America. Oh, sure there's the always exciting appropriations bill, but that's hacked together publicly over a long time in the two houses so that there's no mystery when it's passed and sent on for the President's signature (or veto).
Here the government drafts the bill in secret. Nobody is supposed to know what's coming before the Minister for Finance rises to tell the nation - via live t.v. and radio - what the coming year will mean in terms of government spending and taxes. For days, weeks really, in advance the media is all of aflutter with speculation and leaks (since no one ever loses their job over these leaks I have to assume they're pretty deliberate) as to what the bill will contain.
This year the speculation was more intense than I've ever known it because the country is in worse shape than it's been for a long, long time. And we're still getting used to that idea. When you're in bad shape economically, but used to being in bad shape economically, you worry less.
Yesterday Minister Brian Lenihan delivered his message: 2010 will be a year of PAIN. Lots of it, unevenly distributed, but in such quantities that almost no one will escape unscathed. Cuts in pay for public sector workers, cuts in social welfare, cuts in spending in all sorts of areas. Cuts, cuts, cuts. Oh yeah, an increase in the price of gasoline and home heating oil/natural gas through a new "carbon tax" (pull the other one).
Amusingly, the government has also cut one tax: the tax on alcohol. So, at least we can drown our sorrows for a few dollars less.
Lots of people are angry today. Really angry. Funny enough the group that I think should be angriest is also the least likely to take revenge on the government: the young. No, not children, but those in their 20s & 30s whom the government has all but told to hit the road. They don't vote, however and probably still won't.
Yup, it's young people who have suffered the most in the current downturn what with their exorbitantly priced houses all too tenuous (well-paid) jobs. Thousands of young builders, IT workers, accountants and brokers & traders have gone from earning good salaries to the unemployment line. It seems likely they'll be there for a while yet. Many won't wait to see how things are going to turn out here.
It's almost like one of those natural phenomenon where some animals migrate to a specific hunting ground every twenty years. Young Irish people are the same as they head out - again - for Britain or America (if they'll have them) or Canada or Australia or New Zealand or continental Europe or ... wherever. And we can't afford to lose these people. All that energy and creativity is what the country sorely needs right now, but they were given no encouragement to remain here in yesterday's budget.