Budget Day and Da

Budget Day always makes me a bit scratchy.  A bit uneasy.  I feel like the world is shifting slightly on its axis and I worry that something important may get dislodged in the process.  Something that may cause a domino effect of tumblings, scattering vital bits of my life around and leaving me a puzzle that I cannot easily put back together again.

And then there is the theatre of the Dail Budget proceedings, as a succession of men in suits stand up to bluster and bay at each other from each side of the house.  I avoid watching it live but as an adult with a domestic budget to manage I will try to make sense of the main bits later in the day when clever journalists have worked out the impact of the moving of bands and reductions and increases that will follow.

But there is rarely a Budget Day that goes by, that I don’t think of my dear old dad, Michael Scully.  Budget Days were among his favourite days of the year.  I think he may have enjoyed them way more than his birthday.

I can picture him still ensconced in his chair in the living room, the back of an envelope in his hand, along with a pen, making rapid calculations as the Minister announced the various changes that would affect not only his pension but each one his adult children’s pay packets too.

He would mutter away as he digested all the tasty financial manipulations and machinatiomichael scullyns of the Minister for Finance,  scribbling long columns of calculations.  My dad would have been a huge asset to modern online newsrooms such was the speed and accuracy of his mathematical acrobatics.

As we all arrived home from work, we would be summoned into him individually so that he could earnestly try to explain to us the personal impact of the budget on our individual fiscal space.

None of us had inherited his gift for numbers which I suspect was one of the disappointments of his life.  Each year I tried though.  I would plaster a smile on my face as I sat next to him and he would begin.  His mouth would be moving but all I could hear was white noise.  My mind would shut down as I watched him through his meticulous rows and columns of numbers.  He might as well have been trying to explain the basics of ancient Greek to me.  When he got to the end, which he usually did with a flourish announcing my new monthly net (or was it gross) salary he would look at me and say “do you follow?”  I would nod and mutter an unconvincing “eh, yeah” while still smiling.  He’d look at me and say “you don’t, do you?” and then he would begin again.

By the time he had gone through it two or three more times I would be developing a migraine and he would be getting increasingly frustrated, wondering why his otherwise reasonably intelligent daughter couldn’t follow what, to him were simple calculations.  He thought it very important that we understood the calculations because my father, a retired civil servant, never trusted that the private sector would interpret the changes correctly.  And he was a stickler for accuracy.  He wanted me to understand so that I could make sure my wages would be correctly calculated by my employer.

Tonight, myself and my husband will have a cursory conversation about Budget 17, mainly repeating nuggets we will each have picked up from radio or online reports in the afternoon.  We will infect each other with a vague fear if we think we will be worse off but there is some comfort in knowing that we are never too sure.  We will finally settle on a vague notion as to whether this is a good budget or a bad one for our family.  As we do I will hear my father’s voice in my ear, saying “you don’t follow, do you?  Let me go through it again” with a slight edge to his voice.

I am sorry Da.  Really, I am. And I wish you were still here to work it all out for us.

Imagine if we had no government?

It is very depressing to watch and to feel the surge of hope that came with the General Election die slowly. We are now coming to terms with the fact that those we voted back into Dail Eireann seem to be completely baffled by the result of said election.  Meanwhile the media seem to be equally transfixed about who might go into government with who.  It’s all part of the game of politics which is great fun until you realise that all the while our country seems to be slipping deeper into social chaos.

My mother, who is in her early 80’s, told me that one of her greatest fears is of having to go to an A&E department.  She said it is a fear shared by many of her peers.  Imagine being frail and elderly and afraid of our hospitals?

I wonder what fears the 1700 children who are living in hotels have?  What robs them and their parents of their peace of mind?  The fear that they may grow up confined to these tiny spaces that our government call ‘emergency accommodation’.  Some of them have already been there a year or more.  Sounds more like a cruel solution than emergency solution to me.

And what of the rest of us, wondering when exactly it will be when we feel the recovery?  What the electorate said with their votes is that they understand just how precarious this recovery is.  There is much to do before this country is half way sorted.

Meanwhile the men and women of the 33rd Dail are in no hurry to sort themselves out.  There is now even talk of another election.  As I watched a double dose of current affairs programmes last night  I became increasingly fed up.  What’s needed is a leader to go in there and knock heads together and tell our precious TDs just sort it all out and pronto… there are major issues confronting this beautiful country and our people that need urgent and immediate attention.

Then I had a better idea.  With all this talk of new politics, what if we had no Government?  What if we just had the parliament?

We have elected 157 Dail Deputies who have miraculously manged to elect a Ceann Comhairle so what about this?  The Ceann Comhairle asks each TD to compile a list of ten priorities – big ticket items – that need addressing in Ireland right now.  From this list a master list is compiled and the Dail works on sorting each problem out, perhaps by using committees whose membership is based on personal interest, experience and expertise.

There would be no Ministers, the civil servants would run the various departments with full transparency.  Political parties would be disbanded and the whip system would vanish with it.  TDs would elect a Taoiseach who would act as a leader of the entire Dail and fulfill any ceremonial duties required. Imagine the money we would save – each TD would be paid equally.

This would mean that in the future TDs would be elected not on promises of what they would do for their locality but on their vision for the country.  Local issues would be dealt with by the local councils which would function in a similar manner.

Imagine if 100 years after the Rising we reinvented politics, reimagined the way to run a country.  Imagine if Ireland replaced the adversarial parliamentary system by a true democracy.  A chamber where instead of scoring points our TDs would work at being the most creative, the most imaginative and the most effective in their given role.  Just imagine the kind of country we could have then.