IF alchemy is defined as a person taking a pile of scrap metal and turning it into beautiful art, I wonder what you’d call the opposite.
What’s the word for someone who turns wine into water?
After the fall-out and rancour over the Covid bonus, I would suggest the word we’re looking for here is ‘Government’.
Here’s how they could have approached the whole issue.
The Taoiseach emerges from a Cabinet meeting to declare that, following robust discussions, it has been decided that all frontline health workers who dealt with the sick and dying for 18 months (and counting, sadly), will receive a one-off tax-free payment of €1,000.
The exact workers who will receive this, says Micheál Martin, will be decided by the HSE, but he is keen to stress that no administration staff, and nobody earning more than €100,000 a year, will receive the bonus.
The Taoiseach will then go on to say that, unfortunately, the Government is simply not in a position financially to pay bonuses to all those workers who deserve it, such as in the retail industry, given the vast debt incurred during the pandemic.
However, he cunningly adds that any company which chooses to pay its staff a Covid bonus will not incur any taxes on them, as a gesture of appreciation from the Government.
This matter, he says, will be dealt with by the Inland Revenue.
Mr Martin finishes this impromptu press conference by re-stating his sympathy for all families who lost a loved one during the pandemic, and hopes that we have now seen the back of Covid-19.
The Taoiseach retreats to Leinster House and reflects that the matter is now closed, perhaps affording himself a smile that the minor detail will be the work of the HSE and Inland Revenue. It’s off his desk anyway.
In such a scenario, he may even be able to bask in a little goodwill from voters, having given the impression that the entire bonus idea was his alone, and that his meddling Tánaiste Leo Varadkar didn’t appear to have a hand in it. Result!
This type of decisive act may have had its detractors, a few may have complained they were missing out. But the large majority of us, I would wager, would be happy with that scenario.
Crucially, when you explain that the decision has been made in Cabinet, you are drawing a line under it, and not allowing the 24-hour news and social media cycle to take it and run with it.
This scenario would certainly not have turned the Covid bonus issue into the running sore it has become, costing support for the Government and its parties. Because that’s precisely what has happened in the past few weeks.
You have to ask yourself: Does a Government that even turns a good news story into a bad news one know what it’s at?
Let’s revisit how our Government has approached this.
The woolly approach started straight away, when it suggested that it might be looking at some kind of Covid bonus, but hadn’t decided yet who will get it, what it will be, and how much it will cost.
The creates a vacuum to be filled by all kinds of interests and pressure groups straight away.
The wooliness then continues when the Taoiseach says that the bonus may be a combination of pay and time off to front-line workers during the pandemic.
Then his Tánaiste breaks out and says it may not be limited to healthcare staff, and may include retail workers. Oh, and civil servants.
Then the Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath chips in, but none of this is making things any clearer. He says the prison service, gardaí, Defence Forces, Department of Social Protection, and Revenue Commissioners also played a part in the pandemic, suggesting they too are deserving cases.
Just as the private sector were starting to count the cost of this bonus, and wondering which Buggins was next in line for a hand-out, Mr McGrath added that the private sector shop workers also kept the show on the road.
Oh, and on the one hand, Mr McGrath said this issue would take weeks to decide, and on the other he said he didn’t want it to drag on.
Great. Cue an open season from all those wanting a piece of the action.
It really looks like the Government is asking to be deluged with applications for this bonus.
Calls by all and sundry to have a piece of this delicious pie are made, hopes are raised, and ultimately, whatever the Government decides to do now will not be enough.
Teachers and gardaí demanded to be included, then teacher unions rowed back after an outcry from many, pointing out that schools remained closed for most of the time.
You have to ask, why does this debate have to be carried out in public and drag on for weeks? Why not make a decision and stick to it?
Under the current financial circumstances, it doesn’t make sense to be all-inclusive on a bonus payment that will set us back billions, when most people would be satisfied with the frontline health staff getting the extra cash. But now the carrot has been dangled....
It could be said that the Government recognises the divisiveness of the issue and are listening to the people. But, as I said at the start, if that was their intention, it has failed dismally.
We now have a situation where perhaps millions of people will get a payment they barely deserve, or the same millions will be left angry and disappointed at missing out.
Part of the problem is not down to the Government at all; it is down to us, the people.
We have become a spoilt, grasping and selfish lot, even when it comes to responding to what should be good news.
We’ll happily hold out our hands and demand to be paid the same amount of a Covid bonus as doctors and nurses who have endured a horrific 18 months, and then we respond to calls for an introduction of a new bank holiday by stamping our feet and demanding that it falls on the exact date that suits us most.
Nobody ever asks what is the best solution for the country. Everybody asks what’s in it for me.
It’s a reversal of President John F Kennedy’s famous quote: Ask not what I can do for my country, ask what my country can do for me. And, yes, I do take cheques thanks.
The same will happen with next week’s budget. Offer pensioners a fiver and they will grumble it should be a tenner. Raise the fuel allowance from €28 a week to €33 s week and it’s thanks for nothing.
All this money is magicked up from a black hole that is clearly of no concern to the general public.
Dearie me. We have a Government that doesn’t know how to deliver good news, and a population that doesn’t know how to receive it. We’ve reached peak Celtic Tiger, and some.