Editorial: Is austerity really at an end?

Sheila Reilly

Reporter:

Sheila Reilly

Did Europe get it wrong after all? Was austerity the wrong road from Day One? Can we all go out now, throw caution to the wind, and party like it’s 2005?

Did Europe get it wrong after all? Was austerity the wrong road from Day One? Can we all go out now, throw caution to the wind, and party like it’s 2005?

Probably not.

However Jose Manuel Barroso said on Monday that the EU should focus on policies that emphasise growth and he added while austerity was “fundamentally right”, he believed it had “ reached its limits”.

The words were not dissimilar to those uttered by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton last week. President Michael D Higgins also made his own anti-austerity speech in Europe last week but in truth, it is Barroso’s comments that signal the tide may be turning. His comments follow IMF remarks that the United Kingdom may need to revise its austerity programme.

While there may be some shift in the thinking behind austerity, there is no real indication that this will change anything for Ireland and we will need to wait and see how, or if, the European Commission intends to develop this.

In focusing on swingeing cuts, there is a real sense that the air has gone out of the economy, all over Europe, but most definitely in Ireland. Walk up any street in Longford and count the number of shops that have closed. Talk to small business-owners and they will recount the weekly if not daily battle to stay afloat. Meet people who have not lost their jobs, but who have seen their pay packets greatly reduced though stealth taxes and hear how they have drastically cut their spending to cope. Meet the people who have lost their jobs and hear their despair and anguish over countless failed job applications, or rotating training courses that go-nowhere, or their fears for the future.

And if this glimmer of hope from Mr Barroso succeeds in doing anything, let us hope that it helps ease that pervading sense of fear that seems to have eclipsed the nation. There are times it feels as if the entire country is immobilised by this fear, frozen in time as we wait for better days ahead. Yet our children must grow up, we must grow old, life goes on - time stands still for no man, or woman.

Austerity measures will still be part of our lives for some time to come but a little bit of breathing space could inject new life into our economy, into our lives.