I’m writing this in an Internet cafe in Cork before catching a plane to Holland in a few hours. The screen in front of me is devouring euros with all the greed of a Dublin banker, and it is cold outside and I'm having to rush a bit.
Forgive me for that but, after the budget we got earlier in the week, everybody is watching their petty cash a bit closer than usual.
Incredibly the government did not add a cent to the cost of what used to be called "the old reliables" of booze and cigarettes in this budget.
On that front -- and I enjoy both products -- I have to confess to being shocked. I certainly expected at least 10 cents to be applied to a pack of cigarettes, and almost every minister of finance in this state added at least an old penny or two cents nowadays to the price of the pint. This government did not.
They cut benefits at the very bottom of the social ladder for the lame, the blind and the carers. But left the pint and the fag alone.
Nothing shows how out of touch they are with their own people as much as that. No drinking smoker or smoking drinker would have grudged an extra bit of tax on what are, after all, "luxury items" if it had eased the burden on those less advantaged.
I heard a blind man on the radio in the aftermath saying that he would now have difficulty in properly feeding his precious guide dog. And a pint was out of the question for him any more. That hit me where it hurt.
Enough of that for the moment. I'm off to Holland with the Dutch Nation so she can see her family before the Christmas.
We are also going because her brother Harry is 50 years old this week, and that is a milestone feasting occasion in the Netherlands. There is a lot of ritual involved, a lot of fun, a lot of tradition.
Harry will be called Reuben for the day, practical jokes will be played upon him, and there will be a scarecrow kind of mannequin at the end of his lane showing he has indeed reached the half-century.
I enjoy the Dutch rituals hugely. I think I told ye before they do not wait for silver wedding celebrations at all.
Instead they have a Twelveandahaffen when the couple have been wed for a mere 12 1/2 years! It is good in that most of the guests at the wedding, including parents, are likely to be still hale and hearty, so are the most of the guests, and their children are so young that they will never forget the day and night.
With us here in Ireland the bride and groom are lucky to be still able to dance a jig after 25 years! We do wait far too long.
There is a thaw in full swing in Cork tonight after a freezing fortnight all over the country. A man in the pub down the road said to me an hour ago the thaw has been caused by all the hot air the politicians are creating above in Dublin as they wait for the upcoming general election with relish (if they are Fine Gael or Labor or Sinn Fein), and with mortal dread if they are members of Fianna Fail.
A winter election is hard enough going, but worse still if you are going to get an unmerciful slaughtering. The wise old soldiers of destiny are abandoning ship already, taking fat pensions and fleeing into the dusk -- three of them at last count, more to follow -- and if you are like me and love elections for their entertainment value mostly, we are going to have the most stimulating spring ever, whatever about the recession.
Mark my words and mark them well. This election, when it comes, will be the one which will be long remembered as the one which effectively wiped Fianna Fail out near as dammit.
I was a member of the party for many years, and it still hurts me to say that, but the impact of this electoral test will be truly savage. As I write they hold about 13% support nationally. They will be lucky to have 10% by the time we reach St. Patrick's Day.
They are responsible for much of the current disastrous situation, but they will be blamed for all of it. Current leader Brian Cowen has made a poor fist of being prime minister.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who has done much better despite being a cancer sufferer, looks gaunt and frail from the strain already, and the rest of the ministers, probably bar the Dev Og Eamon O'Cuiv (to whose lot it fell to cut the welfare payments) have been seen by the entire population as "spinners" and worse as they denied that Ireland was seeking a financial bailout until the International Monetary Fund were booked into the Dublin hotel where the sums were done and sovereignty diluted.
Some might look on the current situation as being absolutely dire. It probably is, but there is also the spice of a general election campaign to enliven the New Year, and there is nothing many of us like better than a good rousing election with distinguished heads on both sides certain to roll.
Mark my words again -- the Labor Party, though riding high in the polls these days, will do far less well than they hope (a Donegal by-election proved that!), and Fine Gael will have to change their leader to do as well as they hope to do.
There is still a sizeable rump of Irish voters convinced that there is not enough space between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, that they are, as the old saying goes, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I'll only be four days in Holland, but I'm certain there will be bloodletting (and retirements) on a major scale before I get back.
There will be no real talk or concern about the economic plight we are in until all the fire and brimstone of the election is out of the way. That is good.
And the minute the new government (Fine Gael-Labor) get their seals and hot seats, then it will all start over again. And Devil take the hindmost.
Like Ireland itself, my credit on this machine is almost gone...
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