Save money! Fire politicians! Kick the elite!
The Government’s populist campaign to abolish the Seanad has fallen just short of guaranteeing ice cream and trips to Disneyland for all.
When you see Enda Kenny talking about saving €20m and giving two fingers to elitist hacks, it’s impossible not to think of John Delaney running through a train carriage, his locks flowing behind him as he pours cheap Polish lager into the delirious mouths of the loyal Boys in Green.
Saving money is a worthwhile exercise, but does the government’s argument make any sense in this instance?
The fact that such a populist measure happens to distract from the looming menace of yet another savage budget later this month is surely a coincidence. Politicians could never be that cynical.
The debate around that budget is whether the government should reduce spending by €3.1bn or by slightly less.
Whatever the outcome – whether it’s €3.1bn or, say, €2.9bn – we’re about to reduce government spending by a hell of a lot more than the relatively insignificant figure of €20m.
Mathematicians still can’t decide how many zeros are in a billion, but it’s a lot.
Twenty million, on the other hand, is a lot for one person to spend, but not a whole lot for the 4.5m inhabitants of an island to scrape together.
If I were to spend €20m on a second house that would be considered wasteful. But for the government to do it? It actually sounds quite reasonable.
In fact, spread across the nation, it amounts to roughly €4.40 per head. We spend more than €4.40 per head per year on a lot of things.
Courgettes, for example. I go through half a courgette a week. I realise that many of you will deem this reckless but I don’t care. I love courgettes.
My courgette spending per year, therefore, is roughly €24. If my fellow citizens share my desire to eat half a courgette a week, we, as a nation, are spending €104m a year on courgettes.
Even if I accept that I eat far more courgette than most (a fact that I have come to terms with), our total courgette spend is still surely above the €20m abolishing the Seanad will allegedly save us.
Our wild indulgences go further than green, water-based vegetables.
Avocados, for example, cost this nation a fortune. If we stopped eating avocados we could hire an additional 5,000 teachers, the Government will no doubt claim.
Spending on post-it notes is an absolute scandal. Abolishing post-its could see us finally have a functioning health system.
Hair bands. If it wasn’t for our decadent desire to keep hair out of the eyes of young girls, homelessness could be a thing of the past.
The Public Policy website allows you to see where your tax money goes.
This site shows that a person earning a salary of €35,000 donates €8.35 of their annual income to consular and passport services, €16.15 to IT systems in the health system, and €28.96 on farm payments.
This is all, no doubt, valuable expenditure. It is also far more than the €4.40 the Seanad allegedly costs each taxpayer to run.
Incidentally, a person on a salary of €35,000 spends €961.58 a year on servicing the national debt, 23% of which (€221.16) comes from the bank bailout, but we wouldn’t want to talk about that, would we?
The Seanad in its current form is undoubtedly a waste of space. It has the impact and relevance of the Swiss Navy and Scottish Healthy Heart Association.
As a graduate of a National University of Ireland institution I have a vote in Seanad elections, but I have never exercised this vote because I consider the election to be even more meaningless than the student elections I participated in while at that NUI institution.
However, unlike student unions, the Seanad actually could be reformed into something meaningful.
Consider this: an upper house filled with non-party experts to scrutinise legislation and make recommendations based on expertise and not party whips.
A crazy idea? Maybe, but if it worked it could actually add something to our democracy.
I’d certainly pay €4.40 for it.
If we’re willing to just throw in the towel to save a relatively tiny amount, where does the penny-pinching end?
An outright ban on tomato ketchup?
A referendum on whether increased sandal usage could cut down on that pesky national sock bill?
Mark my words: if you tolerate this referendum, then your courgettes will be next.