16 October 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

As election-accented Budgets go, the income and expenditure package delivered to the Dáil on Tuesday by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin was avuncular rather than indulgent in the nature of its giving – the sort of modest but sentimental present that two sensible uncles might have bunched in to buy you rather than the shiny and lavishly impractical bag of gifts you’d got from more eccentric relatives (Charlie McCreevy comes to mind) around this time before.

Although Budgets are not normally proofread for traces of sentiment, Tuesday was an occasion when that consideration mattered. The Government had to gauge and lightly massage the mood of the nation for both lower and higher purposes.

Fine Gael and Labour want to convince us that they are worthy of continuity of tenure over what has come to be referred to, tentatively but with increasing insistence, as the national economic recovery. They want to win the argument for pragmatic political reasons, certainly, but also because of their genuine conviction that they are the best political alignment to perpetuate the journey along the “new path” that Mr Noonan talked almost tenderly about on Tuesday.

So the Budget prescription changed from amputation surgery to rehabilitative care, and we all got a little back – national sentiment was assessed and a formula found with the design of uplifting the collective mood sufficiently to stimulate the increased retail activity that drives demand and growth. Thus the economy is aided on its way and the voter perhaps convinced in the process that our current Government lodgers are worthy of an extension to their lease.

The positive tones of the Budget seemed to initially wrongfoot those poised on the Opposition benches to savage it – austerity for once not being foregrounded, they had to be more felicitous than usual in their fault-finding. Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath took for his initial sally the text that the Government’s unaccustomed giving was niggardly when set against the avaricious taking of their previous rectitude, and in so doing struck an exposed nerve.

In real terms the majority of Irish people are still considerably worse off than they were before recession bit – and there was little in the overall trend or detail of this Budget that will shift the battleground of the next election from the broad plain of disaffection with establishment politics upon which little fiefdoms of protest and populism have lately proliferated.

The anti-austerity lobby is a broad and quarrelsome church, but its gospel has gripped, and the conservative economics and distinctly unradical approach to recovery enshrined in the softly, softly reforms of the Budget offer nothing to disillusion its believers.

There is an implicit promise in the Budget that continuity of government will offer more of the same in the years to come – baby steps to better times rather than the great leap forward. Those who hold to the view that deep divisions exist in Irish society will not be convinced that such an approach will heal them.

In playing a giving rather than a grasping hand, the Government has brandished a Budget at us containing the subliminal political message that the next election is a clear choice between stability and anarchy.

In this “give us a break” rather than “giveaway” budget, we are being offered a paternal form of conservatism that has changed in tone from the strictness of the patriarch to the measured indulgence of the modern dad.

If this move has been taken cognisant of the turbulent mood of the nation towards establishment politics rather than unconscious of it, it is a bold one.

Conservatism or radicalism? Hunker down and hold the centre or shift camp boldly to the left or the right?

In the current lukewarm post-Budget glow, the looming General Election seems more bound up than ever in these choices.

In the making of them, history teaches, nations have sometimes grown great.

And sometimes, too, great empires have fallen.


Recovery – the leitmotif of Tuesday’s Budget – formed the theme of a series of events across our county last week that, while not of direct economic relevance, certainly addressed issues accentuated in our society by the experience of austerity.

The number and diversity of events organised in conjunction with Positive Mental Health Week, and the attendances they attracted, speak well of us as a county in the progressive attitudes we have fostered in relation to coping with mental and emotional difficulty.

Individually and collectively we are doing great work to dispel the stigma and misunderstanding that has long clung to this area of health care. In the more open environment created, the many people who experience a difficulty of this nature at some point in their lives are finding it easier to summon the courage to reach out for and accept help – banishing the demon of self-stigmatisation that is more corrosive than even the societal one to the recovery journey.

If more people are, in the words of Solas Drop-In Centre Chairperson Padraig Columb at his organisation’s informative and uplifting national conference on Friday, realising that “It’s okay not to be okay”, a glaring and damaging deficit continues to shadow progress in this vital health care area.

Treatment and support services are scandalously under-resourced. As surprising as it was to learn on Friday that the Positive Mental Health group that played an important organisational role in last week’s activities in this county did not receive any funding support, the disclosure invited admiration for the good will and co-operative spirit among many agencies that had combined to ensure so much was achieved.

But it was profoundly shocking to hear, at the same conference, that Samaritans, whose listening service expect to deal with 500,000 calls from people in extreme emotional distress this year, did not receive one cent of Government support and was totally reliant on fund-raising to ensure the continuance of its literally life-saving work.

We are very fortunate in Co Monaghan to have such a wide range of support services on hand for each of us and our families should a cloud descend on our mental or emotional wellbeing. And we can be deeply proud of the pioneering work done by St Davnet’s Hospital in Monaghan Town to evolve the community-based model of psychiatric care that now informs international best practice in this field of medicine.

There is now much enlightenment where the darkness of shame and silence once reigned. Sadly, however, there still seems a stigma attaching to the delivery of mental and emotional care among those determining the focus of Exchequer spending. By their lack of action, successive Ministers for Health seem to have been telling us it’s not that okay not to be okay.

The pending General Election offers a strong lobbying opportunity to have this unacceptable situation addressed – and hopefully a commitment to increasing the funding available to mental health services will be sought and elicited from all candidates asking the favour of the voters in our Cavan/Monaghan constituency.


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