Group of disabled Irish people protest proposed government cuts

DUBLIN: I drove past Leinster House, the Irish parliament building in Dublin, last week and saw an extraordinary sight.

Protesting outside were scores of disabled people, many without arms and legs, because the government had stated they were cutting the budget for their helpers. The protestors were almost outnumbered by the media.

The airwaves were full of their plaintive complaints that their caregivers were being laid off because of budget cuts.

The images and interviews were horrible for the government and they quickly reversed the cuts. But it left a trail of damage behind.

The immediate question was what kind of government could do such a thing to the most vulnerable of all in their community?

They will argue differently of course, that they have no choice given the demand by European authorities that they slash their budgets.

Yet the few million or so in cuts that would sever help to the disabled hardly seem worth the human cost. The government seemed unable to comprehend how bad the optics from the cuts to the most vulnerable would be.

The fact is that the disabled looked like an easy target and the Irish government has yet to confront the elephants in the room when they talk about cutting.

TheCroke Park agreement, which set benchmark increases for public union workers who mostly have government jobs, remains the most controversial deal that this Fine Gael/Labour government is abiding by.

It freezes massive amounts of money and sets them aside for public union workers pay increases and increased government benefits.

The deal was struck by the previous government during the Celtic Tiger and all seemed fine at the time as it allowed the government workers to share the wealth with the private sector, which was booming.

That day is long gone and private sector workers have had their benefits slashed and pensions decimated.

Yet the government has refused to touch the public union contracts with the government workers agreed under the Croke Park deal. The Labour Party is deeply entrenched with public unions, which makes it even more difficult to tackle them. But the pressure is mounting, especially as $3 billion dollars in further cuts have to be made.

Ireland’s very generous welfare allowances have also been left untouched. The Sunday Business Post this weekend reported that the IMF has told the Irish government must target those welfare deals such as extra money for every child you have.

Does the Irish government have the stomach to tangle with the public unions and the welfare entitlement programs?

Certainly, given the disastrous experience of how they handled the cuts to the most vulnerable in wheelchairs there is no guarantee they will handle it effectively.

If they do not they may face an election a lot sooner than they would wish.