Save the Soup Runs!

“Never look down on someone unless you’re helping them up”

Brian McLoughlin: Last week brought homeless soup runs to the forefront of the media as long-time soup runs The Homeless Street Café and Friends Helping Friends received visits from the HSE Environmental Health section prior to setting up their tables for the week. The HSE workers informed them that an inspection regarding food safety compliance was unsatisfactory. They were provided with a list of steps that need to be taken and informed that failure to comply “may result in formal enforcement action being initiated by the HSE”. These included a hand sanitising station, monitoring food temperatures and using HSE-approved kitchens. The HSE also informed them that they were being classified as a food business/charity despite being neither.

Continue reading “Save the Soup Runs!”

Why love puppies, and eat pigs?

Why love one, and eat the other?

The case for including animal rights in ‘left’ campaigns

Laura Broxson: Animal rights, often last on the list of social justice campaigns, is actually where I began my journey as a ‘left’ activist, over eighteen years ago. With almost 120 million – yes, million – animals killed in slaughterhouses in Ireland in 2020, according to figures obtained from the Department of Agriculture following an FOI request, isn’t it time we included a fight against speciesism in our campaigns?

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how catastrophic zoonotic diseases can be for the human population, and has made a lot of individuals re-evaluate their choices in terms of what they consume. Climate change has also resulted in a reflection in this regard. But let’s take away pandemics and climate change, and look at this from a purely anti-speciesist perspective.

Continue reading “Why love puppies, and eat pigs?”

If we Tolerate This, Our Children Will be Next

Homeless and hungry bellies on the streets of our capital

The Trauma of Child Homelessness

Brian McLoughlin: In March 2017, then housing minister Simon Coveney officially opened the first family hub in Dublin for families experiencing homelessness. He said this was a response to the negative experiences of homeless families being accommodated in commercial hotels. Coveney then confidently stated that the use of commercial hotels to accommodate homeless families would end in July 2017. 

In Inner City Helping Homeless, we knew this was yet another empty promise that couldn’t possibly be delivered, but Coveney persisted with the publicity tour. When asked by The Journal if he really thought the goal of no longer using hotels for homeless families was achievable, he stuck to his guns that it was possible and that people were working hard to make it happen.

Fast forward four years, and the use of commercial hotels and B&Bs for homeless families continues as more and more hotels pop up around the city. A recent DRHE report stated that in April 2021 there were 113 families still being accommodated in commercial hotels. Families cramped in to one room with their children, their children’s toys, school books – all at a huge cost to the state. While we were all told to stay at home during Covid-19, these families had to spend day after day sharing one room, putting huge mental health pressure on both the children and their parents. It is well documented that living in emergency accommodation impacts a child’s development, creating physical and mental health issues for children in primary school. Homelessness is creating a trauma for a generation of children, and we will be seeing the fallout of this for years to come.

“There’s nothing nice about how I feel” – Charlie, aged 6

In 2019, the Ombudsman for Children brought out a report called No Place Like Home.  For the report, they spoke to children living in emergency accommodation, from small children right up to teenagers. They asked them to explain what life for them was like in their own words, and some of the answers would break a heart made of stone. Children feeling like they were prisoners and were being punished when all they are guilty of is becoming homeless in a country that would rather pay huge money to hotels, B&Bs and family hubs than develop a proper public housing building plan to give these children homes.  When asked what they liked about where they live, the answers spoke for themselves:

“I like nothing about living here, I have none of my friends here, I can’t do a sleep over … [it] makes me feel sad. There’s nothing nice about how I feel”. (Charlie, aged 6)

“It’s like a prison …. It’s just horrible” – Rebecca, aged 10

“The rules are very strict. The worst is that you are not allowed to have friends in your room. They just expect you to sit on your own. And not being allowed to be anywhere without your mam, you’re not even allowed to sit in the room for ten minutes by yourself. I know it has safety issues but nothing is going to happen … If we break the rules we will get kicked out. It’s like a prison … it’s just horrible”. (Rebecca, aged 10)

“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up” – Rachel, aged 10

“Some days I didn’t even want to wake up because I didn’t want to face this day … I am tired in school. Some days I would just sit there and not even smile”. (Rachel, aged 10)

When there are ten-year-old children having suicidal thoughts we as a society are failing these children. Many speak of not being allowed to have visitors or sleep-overs – even prisoners are allowed to have visitors. Why are we allowing this?

 “Children … were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room”

In 2018, Temple Street Children’s Hospital experienced a big spike in children being released to ‘No Fixed Abode’ and wrote a report on the impact of homelessness on children. The report stated that homeless children are most likely to get sick from their cramped accommodation. The main reasons children presented to Temple Street were burns (kettles in hotel rooms), scabies from dodgy mattresses, injuries from falls, and respiratory issues. Even more shocking is the fact that homeless children were not developing quickly enough: they were struggling to learn to walk in a cramped room and even the development of their swallow was effected due to the food they were having to eat as their parents had no available cooking facilities.  Research shows that homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life, from conception to young adulthood, and that the experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural development of children.

“As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years”

These children are this country’s future generations, and they are being let down over and over again by an incompetent government who lack empathy, compassion and vision. A government which continues to outsource state responsibilities to private developers, vulture funds, commercial hotels, B&Bs and privately-operated hostels. Not only do we have a government who lack empathy and compassion, but they are also economically incompetent. Report after report has highlighted what we are doing to children’s development by keeping them in emergency accommodation. As of April 2021 there were 167 families, 247 adults and 475 children, who are in emergency accommodation for over two years.

And what does family emergency accommodation cost? What is the price the taxpayer pays to put children into these environments that cause so much pain?

Fact: it costs more to accommodate a family in emergency accommodation than in a luxury apartment

The figure for accommodating a family of four in emergency accommodation for a year is a staggering €69,000-€80,000.  To put a family in one room, to put a huge strain on the mental and physical health of both the children and their parents.  For context, American real estate fund Kennedy Wilson are renting out units in Dublin’s Capitol Dock Development, originally marketed as Dublin’s Most Desirable Address. On-site amenities include a concierge service, gym, fitness studio, business lounge, residents’ lounge, chef’s kitchen and a cinema room. Nearly half of these apartments are vacant today, potential homes sitting empty as families struggle through life in emergency accommodation.  And the cost of renting one of these apartments is considerably less than what the taxpayer is paying per family for emergency accommodation. The biggest unit in the Capitol Dock building is a three-bed and the monthly cost is €4,017-€4,410.  This is between €20,000 and €30,000 cheaper annually than putting a homeless family into a hotel or B&B for the year.  Is this acceptable to people?

We owe it to these children to fight for them, to tell the government that we will no longer accept their hyperbole and broken promises. These children deserve a safe and secure home, something stated in the original constitution, and we have gotten further and further away from that in the last ten years. We all need to work together to get a referendum on the Right to Housing, and as Covid restrictions lift we need to see feet on the street for water-charges-level protests to shame the government into immediate action.

As the Manic Street Preachers song says, If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next.

Brian McLoughlin is Head of Communications for Inner City Helping Homeless and one of the four contributors to Unite’s Take Four group blog, along with Conor McCabe, Ber Grogan and Laura Broxson.

Why Fine Gael created a housing crisis – and who they are doing it for

Conor McCabe

Conor McCabe: On 14 October 2015 Taoiseach Enda Kenny stood up in the Dáil to speak against government intervention to tackle the rising cost of rents.[1] ‘It is very clear that interference in the market to its detriment is not something that we should do’ he said, adding that ‘if you interfere in the wrong way you make the matters worse’.

It is no surprise to anyone that Fine Gael is a right-wing neoliberal party, so his comments while shocking were not entirely unexpected.

However, there is a wider context to his remarks, one that shows that what is at play here is not just ideology but the protection of a state-sponsored strategy that has led to profits of hundreds of millions of euros for private investors, to the detriment of social cohesion and stability.

When Kenny stood up in the Dáil to denounce rent freezes, it had been two years since Fine Gael and Labour had introduced legislation to allow Real Estate Investment Trusts [REITs] to operate in Ireland.

They had done so on the suggestion of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), which had been a champion of REITs since at least 2009. ‘NAMA executives have been talking about a REIT structure for over two years’ wrote the Irish Independent in 2013, ‘but sign-off from the Government is absolutely essential for such an event to happen.’[2]

Continue reading “Why Fine Gael created a housing crisis – and who they are doing it for”

Guest post: Re-imagining the motor mechanic trade

Unite motor mechanic apprentices receive a toolbox after six months’ membership

The motor trade is suffering from a lack of regulation. How has it got to this point and what needs to change?

Jimi Donohoe, Chair, Unite Mechanics Branch: Motor mechanics were once held in high esteem and valued as skilled workers but over time that has changed. I spoke to an old stalwart whom I worked alongside during my apprenticeship recently and he recounted how “blessed” he was to get an apprenticeship to become a mechanic when he finished school back in 1958. I remember an old black and white photograph he showed me when I was serving my time and it was of him and his workmates standing proudly outside the workshop. Cars were still a commodity back then, a luxury only a well-off family could afford. The novelty of owning a vehicle would have shaped a different picture of mechanics than the one we are familiar with today.

Continue reading “Guest post: Re-imagining the motor mechanic trade”

It’s time to ban trade with Israel’s illegal settlements – together we can make it happen

Kevin Squires, the National Coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Unite member, writes about the current situation regarding the Occupied Territories Bill to ban trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

Dublin Solidarity Protest with Palestine New Years Eve 2011

As the new Israeli government moves to illegally annex yet more Palestinian land, anyone who has been following the fate of the Occupied Territories Bill will have seen it emerge as one of the principle sticking points in the ongoing Irish government formation negotiations.

If made law, the Bill would ban trade with illegal settlements in recognised occupied territories. In terms of Palestine, this would see an end to imports from Israeli entities in occupied Palestine and Syria.

THE LONG JOURNEY TOWARD JUSTICE

It’s been quite the journey for the Bill, first introduced by Senator Frances Black in 2018.

At present the Bill is supported by all parties in the Oireachtas, with the sole exception of Fine Gael, which has been a consistent opponent of the Bill during the term of the minority government, despite the bill being approved by the Seanad, and passing both its initial reading in the Dáil, and the Committee Stage.

Despite this overwhelming support, in order to prevent it becoming law, Fine Gael put the kibosh on the Bill by using the obscure Money Message mechanism; an undemocratic process by which the government of the day can refuse to enact any piece of legislation if it is deemed to require the use of state finances – in other words, any law that has been voted for by the majority of TDs but which the government does not wish to pass.

That’s where the Bill stood as we headed into the 2020 general election, and during that election all parties, Fine Gael excepted, pledged to enact it if in government.

And this is where we find the Bill today – one of several points of contention in the negotiations between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, and opposed only by a party that garnered barely 20% of the popular vote.

So far, both Fianna Fáil and the Greens have remained firm in their commitment to making it part of the Program for Government, while Fine Gael has continued its flat out rejection – while continuing to, at least formally, acknowledge that both the settlements and Israel’s plan to annex yet more Palestinian land are illegal and that something must be done.

Francis Black sponsored Occupied Territories Bill 2018

LEGISLATION IS A LEGAL NECESSITY

The argument Fine Gael use is primarily that the Bill would be in violation of EU trade laws. To make this argument they rely on the unpublished opinion of the current Attorney General, Seamus Wolfe – and have denied parties or the public access to this opinion for over two years[1].

However, several eminent jurists and legal scholars argue the exact opposite, including Michael Lynn SC, James Crawford SC, Professor Takis Tridimas and former Attorney General Michael McDowell.

Indeed, legal scholars maintain that this legislation is actually a legal obligation required to bring Ireland into compliance with its duty to non-recognition of and non-assistance to serious breaches of international law; in this regard the Bill is supported by current and former UN Special Rapporteurs for the Human Rights in Palestine Michael Lynk, John Dugard and Richard Falk.

There are secondary, more political, arguments that Fine Gael use – such as the Bill lessening Ireland’s influence with Israel (leverage which has been so immense in the past, apparently) – but the mainstay of their opposition is ostensibly based in perceived legal problems, and particularly that of the current Attorney General.

Of course, as we know from the experience with Ireland’s ban on imports from Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, the advice of one AG can be overwritten by that of their successor. Then-AG Peter Sutherland argued that a ban would contravene EEC law, but his successor AG John Rogers argued the opposite, and Ireland in fact became the first EEC country to introduce such a ban setting a major precedent.

Today in Ireland we have a real chance to pass this equally historic legislation in support of oppressed peoples. 

A STRONG COLLECTIVE CAMPAIGN GOT THE BILL THIS FAR

Of course, the Bill didn’t get this far on its own – its progress down to two and half years of amazing work by Sen. Frances Black and her office, Niall Collins TD who introduced it into the Dáil, and is a testament to the tireless lobbying and mobilisation work of civil society organisations such as Sadaka, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Trocaire, Christian Aid, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Palestinian groups like Al Haq and BADIL.

But most of all, the main driver of this Bill’s progress has been the general public, who have made their support widely known – so much so that the Bill was coming up on the doorsteps during the general election.

Despite Fine Gael’s continued opposition, all of us who have worked on this campaign firmly believe that we can still push it across the line – but we need to up the political pressure on Fine Gael in particular, but also to let Fianna Fáil and the Greens know that their stance is popular and supported.

Indeed, with Israel’s plan to annex some 30% more of the West Bank next month going virtually unopposed by the international community, we cannot abandon the Palestinian people at this critical time.

MORE ACTION IS VITAL TO PUSH THE BILL OVER THE LINE

So we are asking people to take a few minutes to engage the party leaders, Foreign Affairs and Trade spokespeople, and your local FF/FG/Green TDs to let them know that this legislation is an issue for you – thank the Greens and Fianna Fáil for holding firm, and call on Fine Gael to alter their rejectionist stance and bow to the democratic will of the people. 

The relevant email addresses are:
Fine Gael: leo.varadkar@oir.ie, simon.coveney@oir.ie
Fianna Fáil: micheal.martin@oir.ie, sean.haughey@oir.ie
Green Party: eamon.ryan@oir.ie, pauline.oreilly@oir.ie
You can find your local TDs’ email addresses here by searching by constituency.

Experience has shown that it’s more effective to write your own messages – no matter how short or long – rather than copy and pasting a generic text, but if you need some tips they can be found here.

It is important to stress that no matter what you personally may think of any of the parties involved in these negotiations, if you care about Palestinian rights at all, you should try to send a message to them because, at the end of the day, this is not a legal battle, it is a political one.

And even if you think Fine Gael will not be moved – just remember that two years ago Fianna Fáil said they couldn’t support the Bill, and last year they introduced the legislation into the Dáil.

There is always hope – let us be guided by it to make history!

About the author

Kevin Squires is a member of Unite and the national coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. For more information about the work of the IPSC and the latest news, views and analysis from and about Palestine you can check visit www.ipsc.ie or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and all major Podcasting platforms.


[1] Although two weeks ago, its general gist appears to have been leaked to the Irish Independent

Tourism in a Time of Crisis

Karen Doyle and Julia Marciniak from Unite Hospitality & Tourism branch take a look at the conditions workers face in Ireland’s Tourism sector.

Cliffs of Moher Co. Clare

What should be a time when most people are planning holidays, going on day trips, or planning some weekends away we find ourselves wondering if perhaps next year will be better? The global pandemic of Covid-19 has brought life as we know it to a standstill. Throughout Ireland the Hospitality and Tourism sector has been hit extremely hard with mass layoffs and the effective closing down of an entire industry. This blog aims to take a closer look at the tourism industry before, during and after this emergency and will offer some ideas on how workers within this vital sector can organise to better protect themselves for a better future. The time has never been more pressing than it is now to join a union and through collective actions demand for a better, fairer future as this vital sector recovers post crisis.

The Government website (gov.ie) ascribes that “Tourism is one of Ireland’s most important economic sectors. According to the latest estimates, in 2018, out of state (Overseas and Northern Ireland) tourists generated €5.6 billion for the Irish economy. This figure rises to €7.3 billion when fare receipts to Irish carriers are included. Domestic tourism was worth 2 billion, meaning the sector as a whole was worth €9.4 billion to the economy”

Tourism and the Economy

According to the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation www.itic.ie Tourism is Irelands largest indigenous industry employing up to 265,000 people with 68% jobs outside Dublin.  This is hugely significant given the number of tourists visiting here, up to €9.3 million overseas visitors came to Ireland in 2018 spending €5.1 billion in the local economy. Given the figures it is easy to see why governments, both local and national, businesses and workers are reliant on this sector to remain viable into the future. Therefore, in organising this industry it is vital that workers are viewed as essential components to help rebuild our local economies as the sector looks to welcoming tourists once again.

Dublin

Tourism and Céad Míle Fáilte

Since the beginning of this crisis our government, media and the wider public has rightly lauded frontline workers labelling themas essential. Indeed, these workers are helping to keep our communities safe and our shops open so that we can take care of ourselves and our families in these uncertain times.

Within all sectors of our economy there exists many other frontline and essential workers without whom the various sectors and the economy would simply grind to a halt.

Tourism workers are the face of Ireland. They are the storytellers of times past and the ones who give the world renowned céad míle fáilte to millions of tourists who visit our shores every year.

Working in the tourism industry is about telling the story of Ireland, workers draw from its unique and ancient culture with its vast and often troubled history in a way that brings the past to life, encapsulates the best of us at present, while showcasing Ireland as a future destination that has something to offer everyone.

Frontline workers in this industry are local ambassadors too, often helping tourists find their way about, answering queries and giving recommendations for where to eat, drink, visit and stay. These factors all help to contribute to the famous Irish welcome that visitors have come to expect, and it is one of the reasons why this industry thrives and why local businesses reap the benefits too, this is the beating heart of tourism, it’s where workers on the frontline of this industry excel at helping to deliver the best of what Ireland has to offer.

Working in Tourism: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Working in tourism can be rewarding, those workers we spoke to for this blog stated that getting to meet people from different parts of the world is a pleasure, educating tourists about Irish history and culture makes their job satisfying and for those workers who are outdoors or working in heritage and popular tourist sites work brings a sense of doing something different than the norm which these workers appreciate.

However, like their counterparts in the hospitality industry, tourism workers often have precarious work, earn low pay, get no extra pay for working on a Sunday, most workers have no job security and working conditions can be less than desirable.

Some workers do not receive their contracts or proper breaks, some complain of not getting their work roster in a timely manner, while one business we know of does not provide a toilet for their staff, yes, you read that correctly. Despite several attempts to resolve the issue workers here are still without the most basic of rights.  

 Many tourism workers have extensive knowledge of local and national history they hold university degrees, while many more attend related or professional courses to further their education in relation to their jobs, yet the pay and conditions these workers receive does not reflect the skills many of these workers have nor the overall input these workers deliver for the industry as a whole.

Another area of concern raised by some workers in the sector is the use of social media and apps such as TripAdvisor, some reviews can lead to added stress for workers. Bad reviews or even no reviews can lead to some workers experiencing their hours being reduced. The worker in this instance has little by way of right to reply to the complainant and must rely on management to step up when workers are wronged.

All these issues show how little respect is given to many workers in this sector without proper site inspections vital workers rights can be disregarded and ignored.

Tourism in a Post Pandemic Workplace

Workers returning to their jobs over the coming months must be satisfied that all health and safety measures are in place to keep them safe.

At a recent Covid-19 briefing on RTE, the Minister for Business, Heather Humphries, called for ‘every workplace to appoint one lead workers representative who will work with the employer to ensure Covid-19 measures are adhered to’, of course we would argue these ‘lead workers’ should be union members.

In the recently published research paper, commissioned by Unite and titled, Hope or Austerity, Dr Conor McCabe lays out clearly why we need to have confidence that measures are working as we reopen for business. ‘Guideline or ‘best practice’ procedures will not be enough. These protections must be on a legal footing and subject to workplace checks by trade unions. This is to ensure that our members are protected, and that employers adhere to the regulations’.

As the Hospitality & Tourism industry returns and rebuilds post pandemic, the public must be assured that conditions in the workplace are satisfactory for the workers, and that it is a safe place for them to visit.

Therefore, it is the workers themselves in this sector who need to become unionised. Strengthened by their collective power they will then be better positioned to protect themselves and the public too. The workplace that has a unionised lead worker can be an advocate on broader work issues, raise health & safety matters with management and be a voice for workers grievances.

This is the best way forward for workers in an industry that has disregarded its front-line staff for too long while the industry has taken billions into the Irish economy on the backs of the hard work done by skilled and dedicated employees.

Tourism & Hospitality have much in common, the Covid -19 pandemic has had, and it will continue to have, a massive impact on tourism not just in Ireland but globally too. It is the sector that took the biggest hit and will take time to recover, jobs created by this sector and the economic impact is undeniable. Let us hope that Ireland’s key sectors, and those who run, regulate, and profit from them are taking this time to reflect on a little bit more than the bottom line.

 And let us hope that workers too are reflecting and realising some important lessons this pandemic has given us; that all workers have value and their contributions are necessary to keep the wheels of the economy running, that it is the front-line workers in all sectors who are the biggest asset any company or business has.

 It is now time to reflect, recharge, rethink and unionise.

www.Unitetheunion.org

Pandemic exposes inequality in language access for Deaf communities.

Unite member Micheál Kelliher explains how the Public Health Emergency has exposed some of the structural inequalities in access to information for Deaf people.

Since Irish Sign Language (ISL) was recognised as Ireland’s third official language in December 2017, it has been a long and difficult fight to get the Act fully implemented. I am Unite member and a spokesperson for a campaign called #StopHidingISL. We started this campaign when RTÉ refused to include ISL in their broadcast during the national anthem at the All Ireland GAA finals in Croke Park in 2018.

Micheál Kelliher ISL video explaining concerns of the Deaf community with access to public health information

The GAA were very good in including a Deaf person and an ISL interpreter to sign the national anthem at Croke Park on finals day so that the Deaf people at the game could be involved with their hearing friends and family members. However, RTÉ failed to feature this in their broadcast.  This excluded the Deaf people at home and in pubs across Ireland from participating in their national anthem before the game began. RTÉ at that time said that it was technically impossible to include the ISL user on screen, in a bubble for example. However TG4, a significantly smaller station and the GAA managed to do just that without any issue.

In the same month, the Pope was visiting Ireland and was sharing a large, bright stage with the Taoiseach. The interpreter was off the stage, far away in a dark corner away from the cameras. It was somewhat ironic that the Pope was speaking about how society should be more equal, while my access was actively hidden from the screens?

The #StopHidingISL campaign has asked RTÉ about this situation, and their response was that they were filming for an international audience, and that ISL is ‘obsolete’. Wow! It’s a strange word to use. When someone is speaking Irish, does RTÉ tell this person their language is obsolete or edit them out? I’ve never seen this happen, but somehow it keeps happening with ISL! There are clear signs of discrimination and active exclusion of our language.

COVID-19 Health Warnings

When the global COVID-19 pandemic came to the forefront of news broadcasts in Ireland, the Deaf community was initially excluded from access to crucial information in their preferred language for more than a week. Without having access to critical information, we were vulnerable to misinformation and misinterpretation.

Some of you may be wondering why written English is not an adequate form of communication for Deaf people in these circumstances. Sign language is a visual language which like all languages develops organically and for some Deaf people, spoken and written English is like a foreign language. It’s critical that everyone has access to information in their first language so they won’t put themselves and everyone else at risk. Inclusion is not a luxury, it’s a necessity to protect society as a whole.

After a campaign involving the Irish Deaf Society, Chime, and the Deaf community, we got our first briefing with Irish Sign Language on the 5th of March with the HSE (or Department of Health) but it was still a disaster for us. The camera kept focusing in on the speakers and cutting the ISL interpreters out of the shot. The interpreters kept trying to walk into shot so they could be seen by viewers. It was clear that the media team needed some Deaf Awareness training. Slowly, we ISL is becoming more prominent in briefings, because of media teams becoming more aware, but it has been slow and difficult to make progress.

Despite the passing into law of the Irish Sign Language Recognition ACT there is still no consistency across government and state institutions.  When we achieve access to information in our language with one agency, we have to do it all over again with other agencies, departments, media companies and staff. In recent weeks we have observed briefings and announcements by the Ministers for Health, Education, Finance, and the department of An Taoiseach without Irish Sign Language interpreters.

Another situation which is of great concern to our community is the education and inclusion of Deaf children. RTÉ launched a valuable initiative called the Home School Hub, to help with home schooling that children all over the country are facing. However, RTÉ yet again failed to include Deaf children who are ISL users.

For the first week or so, out of concern for the children Deaf teachers and special needs assistants stepped in and volunteered their time to translate the content into ISL. The Deaf community and its organisations again mobilised to campaign to get ISL included in the Home School Hub.

The approach to sharing information in ISL is not consistent across platforms either. For example, there are regular videos with ISL on RTÉ’s social media pages coming from the HSE’s daily briefings. But when the Taoiseach made an announcement about restrictions on the 1st of May, there were no videos with ISL on their social media pages, leading to confusion and stress when trying to access the new information. The ISL videos were only on the RTE News Now TV channel, and RTÉ Player. Each Deaf person has their own preferences on where they get news, e.g. TV channels, newspapers, websites, social media. And besides, not everyone has TV or the Internet. Access to information in Irish Sign Language should be on all media platforms.

Deaf communities around the world are experiencing similar barriers. British Sign Language users and the #WhereIsTheInterpreter campaign have started a class action legal case against the UK government. The World Federation of the Deaf and World Association of Sign Language Interpreters has made a joint statement “reminding governments on all levels of their commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Peoples with Disabilities (CRPD) to ensure full access to information and accessibility to all services under CRPD Articles 9 and 21.” The Irish government ratified the CRPD, but they, their agencies, departments and public owned companies consistently fail to follow the convention.

Moving forward, I hope that seeing ISL interpreters on screens will be normalised and not only during exceptional events. Interpreters are signs of an inclusive society and can inspire some people to learn ISL, and to let Deaf people play a bigger part in our inclusive society.

Here is a list of demands that I, and members of the Deaf community, would like to see all media companies, agencies and departments follow:

  1. When interpreters are at televised events, they must be beside speakers and on camera, no matter if the audience is national or international.
  2. Media teams should receive Deaf Awareness training and always keep access and inclusivity in their minds.
  3. Full time and well paid staff who are fluent in ISL at RTÉ to always be ready for exceptional announcements or sudden changes (e.g. red warning weathers, COVID-19), in a timely manner (information translates immediately, not a few days later).
  4. Consistent access to Irish Sign Language and subtitles across all media platforms, from TV channels (including the main one) and websites to social media.
  5. Provide full access to ISL and subtitles for important events in our society like political debates.
  6. Roles such as policy officers with a focus on access to ISL across all departments, agencies and media.

The demands above are so simple, and some of them don’t cost anything. We are aware that there won’t be any ‘getting back to normal’ after the COVID-19 pandemic. RTÉ shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, actively excluding ISL from screens. The government departments and agencies shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, forgetting about the Deaf community’s needs. The media companies shouldn’t get ‘back to normal’, having inconsistent approach on sharing information in ISL on all of their media platforms. I’m hopeful that we will keep going forward, not backwards.

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance” – Verna Myers

While some advocate premature opening, Unite’s Julia Marciniak lifts the lid on our hospitality & tourism sector

drawing

“Washing hands doesn’t contribute to profits, so it’s not a priority for bosses”.

Most Easter weekends see us visiting pubs and restaurants to meet up with friends.  This weekend is very different, with hospitality outlets closed as a result of Covid-19.   As we sit at home, have a read of this post by Unite Hospitality Coordinator Julia Marciniak who lifts the lid on the conditions faced by many hospitality workers – and highlights what needs to be done to ensure that hospitality workplaces are safer places for staff and customers when they do re-open.

The picture at the top of this post was drawn by the young son of an activist and captures previous protests outside Dublin’s Ivy restaurant. 

Introduction

Julia Marciniak: This week Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, called on the Government to set out clear plans for lifting restrictions so that businesses can re-open.

Obviously restrictions will eventually be lifted, but when that happens a focus needs to be put on employers’ responsibilities to put in place new measures that ensure the health and safety of workers and the general public.  Those measures need to include adequate washing facilities, break times, and a transparent method of workplace inspections.

Continue reading “While some advocate premature opening, Unite’s Julia Marciniak lifts the lid on our hospitality & tourism sector”

A FAIR SOCIETY REQUIRES COMPROMISE

New Blog by Brendan Ogle.
This week we had an emergency debate on a vote of no confidence in the Minister responsible for that emergency, Eoghan Murphy. Just days before we had four by-elections where barely one quarter of the electorate bothered turning up, so four new TD’S took part in the debate. I watched Tuesday’s debate live. Amid all the theatrics and finger pointing this much was clear: the Government believe the free market is the only way to provide housing, even on public land.

IN THIS REGARD IT IS OUR GOVERNMENT WHO ARE ‘EXTREMISTS’

Did you know that 5% of renters pay 75% of their total income to their landlord? This is one, just one, of an extraordinary array of statistics linked to our housing and homeless emergency.

This week we had an emergency debate on a vote of no confidence in the Minister responsible for that emergency, Eoghan Murphy. Just days before we had four by-elections where barely one quarter of the electorate bothered turning up, so four new TD’S took part in the debate. I watched Tuesday’s debate live. Amid all the theatrics and finger pointing this much was clear: the Government believe the free market is the only way to provide housing, even on public land. They are wedded to that ideology, see nothing at all wrong with it, and even think it’s ‘caring’. The Government’s definition of ‘caring’ is best encapsulated by Minister Regina O’Doherty who thinks it is ‘caring’ to refuse to award a 10c increase (yes 10 cents, it’s not a misprint) to our lowest minimum wages workers in a city where apartments costing €300,000 are described by Government as ‘affordable’.

That position is not caring. Rather it is an extremist position lacking in compassion or compromise.

I have just come from the launch of the ‘Jesuit Centre for Faith & Justice (JCFJ)’ strategic plan for 2019-2023. I am not a religious person but I like to think I am a compassionate one, and the Jesuit’s do fantastic work here in the areas of social justice and inequality. They are not extremists. They are realists in social and economic terms. Their plan focuses in on the three key areas of Housing, Climate Action and Penal Reform and their champion is Fr. Peter McVerry. In his address earlier he made reference to the report being a ‘critique without fear of losing Government funding because we don’t get any.’ This was more than just a quip, and everybody present knew it.

Yesterday the Chief Executive of the ‘Peter McVerry Trust’, which does rely on substantial Government funding, made what I still consider to be ill-advised comments about the political debate the previous night, basically saying that changing the Housing Minister would have been pointless. When Apollo House was order to be closed by the High Court in January 2017 the same Trust, and Dublin City Council too, swore affidavits in Court that there were enough beds in Dublin City then for all homeless people. Those oaths looked ridiculous then, and they look even more ridiculous now. They were simply untrue. But what sort of extremist Government requires such unquestioning compliance from emergency service providers like these in order to ensure the provision of essential funding streams for our most vulnerable?

Of course citizens shouldn’t require ‘charity’ or emergency services for a roof over their heads.  That notion in itself is the manifestation of Fine Gaels’ extreme political ideology. Basic decency, fairness and the concept of ‘society’ should be enough. One of this morning’s speakers was JCFJ’S Kevin Hargaden who noted that ‘it has been decades since the wealthy have carried such a light load’ and that it was as a result of this fact that ‘social services have been devastated’

Kevin also pointed out what should be obvious but is often lost in the cascade of extremist and divisive Government policies, and the clamour of their apologists in the ideological sect that is Irish media – ‘poverty is not a natural disaster’. Indeed it is not. Everything we see on our streets now, that we witness every day, is the result of a political choice. We are a rich country, a very rich country. Yet our streets are strewn with human suffering, degradation and economic isolation. It’s brutal in its contempt for ordinary people. 

I learned this morning too that 75% of the occupants of our prisons are suffering from addiction, and of course there are only a small number of assistance programmes available. Where they exist they only do so to save Government blushes, as opposed to any sincere effort to stop the anesthesia of those who our Government are content to abandon to the fringes of ‘recovery Ireland’.

EXTREMISM

We now live in a country where those who believe a roof over their heads is a human right and social need, where those who want a living wage, who seek tax justice, who expect a health service that provides services based on need as opposed to wealth are treated as the ‘extremists’. And yet a Government that is presiding over the worst housing emergency since the famine, that allows employment abuses that are so bad some go back to the days of slavery (I have the records and real life testimonies in my office) and which is wilfully stealing our children’s youth and hopes for basic needs to be met in the future claim to be, and are allowed get away with describing themselves as ‘holding the centre’.

No

They are not. They are the extremists. They and their bullying, arrogant greed, their selfish pandering to their rich paymasters, their recklessness with our taxes and their non-collection of much more, their sociopathy which is now bordering on psychopathy, and their careless delusion of compassion. The carnage which is now the lived experience of far too many is a result of Government extremism. But enough from me. Peter McVerry, in the best letter I have ever seen printed in The Irish Times, sums up the extremism best:

Sir, – I attended court with a young homeless boy who had been charged with theft of a bottle of orange, value $1.

Another homeless man was charged with theft of four bars of chocolate, value €3.

Another homeless man was charged with theft of tow packets of Silk Cut cigarettes.

A TD, on his way to, or from, his full-time, very well paid job in Brussels, stops by at Dail Eireann to sign in, so that he can collect his full €51,600 expenses for his attendance in the Dail. – Yours, etc.

Fr PETER Mc Verry SJ

Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice