In Healy’s world, economic progress and tumbling rates of unemployment mean that poverty is on the rise. According to his statistics, at the start of the millennium (this one, mind), one in every four children in Ireland was living in poverty, alongside one in four households and one in every five people. Because he uses a definition of poverty that is based on a percentage of average annual income, the higher that income rises, the higher the poverty line rises. If JP McManus, the multi-millionaire gambler, lived in a country full of billionaires he would be living in relative poverty on the Healy scale.
Healy would like to see Ireland’s tax take rise, and the additional money he thinks higher taxes would bring would then be spent on reducing poverty. His view on taxation policy is captured well in his Socio-Economic Review for 2003: “In spite of dramatic cuts in taxation rates, revenue kept coming in and allowed us to record sizeable current account surpluses . . .”. He cannot accept that lower taxes might encourage economic activity and generate higher revenues; no, revenues rose in spite of tax cuts, not because of them.
His economics and his statistics are artfully constructed to paint a picture that justifies his stridency and his position at the very heart of policy formation. That would be fine if Healy was ever subjected to vigorous cross-examination, but he is not. Trawl through the electronic archive of The Irish Times and you will find more than 100 articles in recent years about (or by) Healy — or “Father Fairness” as he was dubbed in one interview. Apart from two columns by Kevin Myers in the past eight years and one small news story in which a civil servant criticised Healy’s “propagandising” there is not another hint of challenge or about his economic theories.
Similarly, if you are looking for a robust exchange of views you will listen in vain to an interview with Healy on RTE. He is one of our untouchables, a noble priest who fights for the socially excluded. No matter that what he spouts is economic nonsense and counterproductive to the cause he espouses, he has achieved an exalted position.
This last is what grates the most about this buffoon. One can't fault one idiot for economically illiterate sermonising. What is worthy of condemnation is the strikingly unsceptical stance adopted by most of the Irish media, and now apparently Fianna Fail, in dealing with Fr. Healy. It is somewhat ironic to note that most prominent among Healy-boosters are the type of people who, rightly, condemn the level of church interference in Irish society and media in the past.
More on Healy from Pat Leahy.