Not getting what we paid for

Jan 14th, 2007 | By | Category: Ireland

My dad used to tell a story from his days as a boy in London.There was a Scout Jamboree held in London in 1948 and one of the Scouts from India had arrived with a revolver amongst his luggage.According to the story, he had been told repeatedly that Britain was a hostile place and that he would need the gun to protect himself.

“If people are told something often enough, they will believe itâ€?, my dad would say.

The story in itself is interesting; I can find no reference to a London World Jamboree in 1948.Perhaps the story was told so often that it came to be believed itself, illustrating the point it was designed to make.

Irish taxpayers have been subject to the repeated telling of stories.We live in one of the richest countries in the world we are told.Yes, but if one starts with a very small population and has a super wealthy elite, it is not hard to get a very high average income figure.

We have a low tax regime, we are told.Maybe so, but then we have to ask what we are getting for it.If we have to pay a voluntary health insurance that is involuntary, if we have to fork out €55 to see the doctor, if we have to pay for almost every service we receive, then shouldn’t all the additional cost be added to our tax burden figure to make fair comparisons with other countries?And what of the environment we have to tolerate?Would a country that was really rich have our level of vandalism and litter and dilapidation?Would a country that was really wealthy allow the hideous defacing of its cities and towns by grim architecture?

Spending last week in Austria, I decided that whatever figures Bertie Ahern may produce, the Austrians were far better off.

Between InnsbruckAirport and the beautiful village of Alpbach, I saw no signs of vandalism; I saw virtually no graffiti; I saw everything smart and tidy and well maintained.In the village I saw the director of the ski school leave his wheelchair in the street outside of the door of his house each evening, confident that it would be there the next morning, that no-one returning from the various bars would send it flying down the street.At the lift station I watched an instructor arrive in the locker room, which had completely open public access, between 3.15 and 3.30 each day, and prop his skis in the corner, quite happy that they would be there in the morning.

Looking for litter as we walked through the village, we did come upon a broken bottle one evening; it was gone the next day. An experience that was a contrast with here: walking down the road one evening here, I moved the base of a broken bottle from the middle of the road, where it was a danger to cars, and put it against the kerb.I expected the road sweeper lorry would soon carry it away, then I began to watch how long it would remain, it was eighteen months before it finally disappeared. It would be hard to imagine the Austrians accepting such a level of service.I think I can begin to understand how a neighbour who came here from Bavaria would become so cross at Irish public service

Austria has its problems; the role of the Freedom Party in recent politics is a sign of deep unease, but how would they feel if they had the level of public service that Irish people tolerate uncomplainingly?

When discussing ski boots last week, my instructor said, “You get what you pay forâ€?.I’m not sure his comment applies in all situations. Contemplating Dublin as we arrived back yesterday, it was hard to believe we are getting what we pay for.Being told the story of how great things are doesn’t take the graffiti from the walls beside the DART lines; it doesn’t unjam the traffic on the M50; it doesn’t clear up the filth after a Saturday night.

Still, come the General Election, we’ll believe the story all the same.

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