Regina Doherty’s suggestion that the state pension could be determined by factors like geography provided prime fodder for daytime radio, as callers and panellists were pitted against each other in a game of parochial poor-mouth.
To support her argument, the Social Protection Minister conjured up the figure of “a lady in Donegal”, an unfortunate creature who was then set upon or defended depending on where one stood.
It marks the return of divide and rule politics practised during the bailout years as government and media manufacture divisions between young and old, between urban and rural, between public and private sector and anyone else in the way of another round of cuts.
Moreover, it signals government’s effort to manage expectations ahead of budget 2020, where they may not have as much ‘fiscal space’ as they would like heading into a general election. Memories of the ‘grey army revolt’ in 2008, following proposals to end automatic entitlement to the over-70s medical card, still linger in Leinster House so any attempt to even countenance pension reform indicates that economic clouds are indeed on the horizon.
The phony war between old ladies of Donegal and Dún Laoghaire is ready-made media drama. Almost overshadowing the minister delicately framing her policies in the language of “fairness”. Any such moves, however, along with perennial anxiety about child benefit, can be viewed within an agenda to do away with the idea of universal benefits altogether.