EARLY Bank Holiday Monday afternoon on BBC Radio 4 was taken up with a consumer programme discussing where British people might holiday this year. It acknowledged the fact that, far from being a luxury, an annual holiday is used in the British governments’ well-being surveys when they decide how generally happy the population is. The bad news was that British people visiting Ireland are becoming a relative rarity. If we are being honest about it, it is difficult to blame them.
At the time of writing, Stg£1 will get you €1.12. This conversion in no way compensates for the massive gulf in the price of goods and services between Ireland and Britain. On a trip home last week for a family celebration, it was difficult not to be blown away by the beauty of the countryside in the glorious sunshine. Given the trend in Britain of taking less sun holidays in the aftermath of the recession, Ireland would seem to be an obvious choice for those considering a shorter break. Despite this, the number of tourists is in decline. The main reason for this must be cost. The speed with which a wallet full of euros becomes change and then disappears altogether never fails to startle me on visits home.
This is my experience when visiting home without any of the usual costs associated with going on holidays. Unless this issue is addressed, most tourists will simply not be able to afford to visit the country. This must be a concern given the fact that tourism is again being looked to by the Government as a means of generating revenue and jobs in Ireland over the coming years and months.
There are, of course, far more pressing concerns for both the Government and the population at large with debts, cuts and hardship still the order of the day. The new Government is continuing in exactly the same vein as the old one with merciless cutbacks and now it seems the disposal of State assets to try and service debts and satisfy the tune-callers in the EU and the IMF.
Whatever your financial situation, it is generally the practice to try and save a little extra to spend while on holiday. It is the time of the year when you can allow a little splashing out and treat yourself and your family if you have one. As holiday-makers cannot afford to come to Ireland because of costs, it begs the question how are ordinary people expected to survive in their everyday lives with the cost of goods and services as high as they are? I have not heard any ministers indicating the Government’s intention to address this.
Instead we hear of cuts to the education sector. Although Minister Ruairi Quinn issued assurances this week that the cuts would not be “slash and burn” in nature, he did so in the same breath as warning the public of painful decisions ahead. Last week, we heard of the plight of gardaí who are unable to pay their monthly bills. This week, teachers’ conferences brought the news that just half of all trainee teachers surveyed recently believe they will have a full-time job in five years’ time. The survey also revealed that just 6% felt they would find employment upon graduation. The general secretary of the ASTI, Pat King, said teachers facea future of unemployment and emigration. Given the cost of living in Ireland, emigration must surely seem like a much better prospect than unemployment. Even if trainee teachers are emigrating to unemployment in another country, they would find it much easier to survive without a job abroad than they would at home.
This kind of brutal reality must be acknowledged and addressed by any government worth its salt. No elected politician should even consider holding their head up high, while this terrible situation persists.
There is also a very strong case to be answered by food retailers in Ireland with regard to the high cost of living. It is noticeable how much prices have dropped since the so-called boom years. This is true of many retail businesses. It begs the question as to how prices can have fluctuated so much? What was happening was that clearly greedy business people were ripping people off for their own profit. Given that there is form in this kind of activity, the question must now be asked are they simply continuing to do the same thing now for smaller margins? It is unclear as to what the Government can actually do to address this issue as the sacred market cannot be interfered with in the capitalist system in which we operate. Only price-fixing can lead to punishment as far as I can see. This means that Irish people will continue to be exploited by business, struggle to make ends meet and be failed by their government. Given that the current problem was not caused by the vast majority of people in the country, the injustice of this situation cannot be overstated.
The current trend in Britain is to holiday locally or at least close to home. This option is not available to Irish people. Even with the preponderance of newly built hotels, the cost of rooms is beyond the means of most people. Those monuments to financial madness and tax breaks stand as mocking reminders of the greed fever which swept through Irish business when times were good.
As taking a holiday is used as a marker of well being, it will be interesting to see how many Irish people will be able to enjoy what now must be considered a luxury rather than a right this summer. Statisticians may consider a holiday an ordinary part of a full life but whether this theory matches reality in the coming years remains to be seen.