Momentous time for Ireland

with Gavin Duffy

THE QUEEN has arrived and so too has a milestone in the process of reconciliation between our two countries. I warmly welcome the British Head of State and believe her visit is long overdue.

I am very privileged to be meeting both Queen Elizabeth and President Obama at functions I will attend in the next few days. The Queen's itinerary has been published but the final details of President Obama's visit is a ferociously well guarded secret.

In a professional capacity I am working with the members of Moneygall community. Normally this too should have stayed secret until Ollie Hayes the publican in Moneygall told RTE's John Murray on his radio show last Friday morning. Now everyone knows, thanks Ollie.

Anyway what is my role? For Henry Healy, a relative of Barak Obama who lives in Moneygall, for John Donovan, who owns the ancestral home and for Canon Stephen Neil, the genealogist who established the link between County Offaly and the US President, next Monday is monumentous. These three men will each be interviewed over a thousand times by the world's media between, say, Saturday and Wednesday next.

I don't think people have any idea how big an international story this is. My team and I will be on the ground in Moneygall to help them cope with the media tsunami that is about to hit them. It is important that the spokespersons in Moneygall do themselves, their village and Ireland justice. It will be a fantastic few days for Ireland having the two most widely recognised heads of state in the world meeting the warm and friendly people of Ireland and pictures of it all beamed around the world on TV.

As a result of my involvement I have been invited to attend an "intimate function" with the US President but if I told you the details of that here now his secret service would have to shoot me so I will tell you all about it in my next column.

DJ AND SARAH'S TROUBLES

My former colleague on Dragons' Den, Sarah Newman and her partner DJ Carey, were in the news last week. AIB went to the Commercial Court to foreclose on a debt of €9.5 million. There were acres of coverage for the story because, of course, they are a very high profile couple. She was judge on Dragons' Den for its first two series and her partner is one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever produced.

Now it has been reported that the couple weren't expecting a hearing of the case on Monday the 9th last but rather a listing. So when the case went ahead they must have been taken by surprise. But Sarah and DJ should have made themselves available to the media immediately. Instead they kept their heads down hoping it would all blow over. What happens then is a media free for all.

If you have been regularly in the media and using it to promote yourself or your business you can't then go to ground, so to speak, on a bad news day.

It will sound like I am promoting my fellow columnist here in the paper when I say look at how Ivan Yates handled his problems just back in January.

Actually Ivan's problems were far wider ranging in that many people were losing their jobs. Now in both cases it was the same bank AIB that was playing hard ball but Ivan faced the music with great dignity, integrity, honesty and empathy for his colleagues.

The amount of support and concern for Ivan and his wife Deirdre was absolutely amazing and well deserved. Very different to the coverage for Sarah and DJ, described as a couple who "enjoyed the high life" which was not deserved. It would be hard to come across a harder working couple than both DJ and Sarah.

I hope they will both pull through this awful mess. In many a game DJ was well down at half time but the fighter in him would come back and get a win. I know he and Sarah will apply the same determination in overcoming this crisis and I sincerely wish them every success.

TAX FOR OUR COUNTRY'S SAKE?

There has been an awful lot written about the funding of the Government's job initiative through a levy on pensions. Levy of course is a euphemism for tax. In fact there has been so much criticism of this "attack on pensioners" that we have almost forgotten what it is funding. The money collected from this tax will go to help people find work and assisting businesses to grow.

But I'd like to challenge all the criticisms of the pension levy. Our country runs an €18 billion euro deficit a year. That is we take in eighteen billion euro less than we spend running the country. We have to borrow that money and as the international capital markets were not prepared to lend to us at a reasonable interest rate, then we had to access the money from the IMF and ECB.

An absolute imperative for our nation is to reduce that deficit. We either cut back on social welfare, health and education, our three biggest areas of expenditure or we raise taxes. If we raise taxes on income, people's house hold budget, what they spend to live on, will be hit directly. If we increase VAT we negatively impact on consumer spending.

So the Government is right to find sources of revenue that don't make our situation worse and won't be felt directly by people immediately. In this regard targeting pensions was justified.

What is now clear is whatever the Government decides to do to generate revenue it will be met by widespread whinging and gnashing of teeth. Everybody says don't tax the lower paid. Well then those of us who have accumulated €78 billion euro in pension funds maybe we can afford to pay this tax and if gets people back to work, surely that will be good for all of us in the longer term.

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