There is currently much justified political commentary about our current, and growing, pension crisis. I say ‘political commentary’ because, while the matter is political in every respect, the discussion avoids the political ‘hot potato’ issues that underpin the crisis in the same way that Irish political commentary generally ignores most inconvenient truths. The inconvenient truth this time?
The labour and housing markets are both deliberately designed and constructed in a manner that can only perpetuate and grow a pension crisis.
The easy elements that make up the crisis are routinely discussed in a circular fashion that takes the issue nowhere. For example, many people quite rationally expect their state pension at age 65 and righteously oppose the age increases that have taken place. Moreover, the full pension (which not everyone gets) of €12,912 may be ‘generous’ by international standards, but it’s not that much over half of what a full time worker gets on the minimum wage (€20,685). How comfortable are the lives of our massive band of minimum-waged workers? Not very.
Bernadette Maughan: Three reports published this year investigating conditions faced by the Travelling community in Ireland have once again brought to the fore a structural prejudice that has existed for decades (see, for example, this report on the experience of Travellers in the mainstream labour market). The most stark report, published by the Ombudsman for Children,No End in Site, described the living conditions on one site in Co Cork. Despite Cork County Council’s attempt to defend the lack of progress, the reality is that it is not an isolated case. In fact, it is the lived reality for the Travelling community on many sites across the country.
Conor McCabe discusses the truth about the government’s summer economic statement and the continuation of austerity through high rents, low wages, increased costs and a lack of investment in our social infrastructure.
Last week the government published the Summer Economic Statement and laid out the broad spending parameters for the budget in October.
Released late on Wednesday 14 July, less than 24 hours before the Dáil summer recess, it was quickly hailed by the media as proof positive of a dramatic and significant turnaround in economic policy by the government parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens.
The Irish Times stated that the apparent change in direction was ‘undeniably linked to the housing crisis and the political fallout awaiting Coalition parties if the status quo continues’.
At the same time the Irish Independent loudly proclaimed that Paschal Donoghue had loosened the purse strings, with the expected post-pandemic boom funding ‘four years of tax cuts’.
The good times, it seems, are on the horizon. The government has learned the error of its ways.
Only The Journal.ie voiced a note of caution, having read the actual document instead of just quoting from the executive summary and assorted press releases.
It found no specific financial allocation to housing anywhere in the Statement, merely a commitment to fix the housing crisis – which is, after all, already government policy.
‘We don’t know exactly how much the Government plans to allocate specifically to housing in Budget 2022’ it said. Nor will we have a clear idea until the Housing For All strategy is published on 26 July.
In fact, far from being a dramatic change in direction, the Summer Economic Statement reveals a government and a state that remains in thrall to the market and the fiction of tax-cut-led growth.
In terms of expenditure, the Statement says that the government will allocate an extra €1.1 billion to capital projects in 2022. (Sinn Féin has pointed out that once allocations are made to the Brexit Adjustment Reserve, in reality this figure will be in the order of €800m.)
This extra funding will stretch across all government departments, including not just housing but health, education, transport, as well as climate action measures.
To put that into context, the ESRI recently said that the state would need to spend an extra €2 billion a year on social housing alone in order to have any chance of tacking the housing crisis.
Whatever measures the government comes up with in the Housing for All strategy and in the October budget, it is clear that any net increase in housing spend will be of the order of hundreds of millions, and nowhere near the €2 billion that is actually needed for 2022.
The one figure that is crystal clear in the Statement, though, relates to tax cuts.
At a time when the need for capital investment in our social infrastructure has never been stronger nor clearer, the government has announced €500m in tax cuts every year for the next four years.
In other words, instead of putting €2 billion into social housing, the government has instead committed itself to €2 billion in tax cuts.
This defies all logic and is completely geared towards the minority of voters in Ireland who crave such cuts over services – a minority that nonetheless in all likelihood votes Fine Gael.
This would explain why the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has been calling for such cuts, despite a clear majority of people in Ireland in favour of investment in social services.
The Tánaiste and his party, with the support of Fianna Fáil and the Greens, are engaged in an ideological project that sees tax avoidance as a God-given right and to hell with the consequences.
For all their talk of the national interest, the government parties are pandering to their base with a rugged determination.
At the same time, there is a grain of truth in the ‘lessons learned’ line of the establishment media.
The Summer Economic Statement shows that there are no overt austerity cuts on the horizon for at least the next two years.
It has placed warning signs on the period 2024 onwards, saying that the EU fiscal rules in all likelihood will have returned by then, and that in 2023 the government will borrow for capital spend only.
This approach, however, will have the benefit of sparing the coalition government any attention-grabbing cuts to services.
However, austerity will continue as in its present form, through high rents, low wages, increased costs and a lack of properly focused investment in our social infrastructure.
This includes a lack of investment not only in housing, but also in health, education, transport, care (including childcare) – as well the type of visionary climate action plan that present circumstances demand.
And by investment we mean genuine public investment – not privatised outsourced solutions that end up costing billions with no net long-term benefit to the state.
The lack of an overt austerity agenda also means that for those of us on the left, there will be a need for a more focused and analytical approach to the right-wing agenda of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Greens.
The devil, for the next two years at least, is going to be in the detail. Shouts of ‘cuts’ are not going to be enough, and with that in mind, now would be a good time to adapt our research and analysis accordingly.
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.
Brendan Ogle: I have decided to write this article at this juncture for a number of reasons.
* Firstly, insofar as Irish workers can rely on any meaningful legislative support to protect their collective rights as workers those supports have crumbled into virtual non-existence
* Secondly, we have just had imposed upon us yet another Government that not a single person in the state voted for, with a programme for Government that fails absolutely to provide one iota of additional support for such workers, or even to acknowledge a problem
* And finally, in this neoliberal era the levels of inequality between labour and capital is now so extreme, and the resultant deprivation in a world and nation of such riches so acute, that the Trade Union movement of workers must now fundamentally change approach and take affirmative actions, or stand accused of simply existing to enable our class oppressors continue to trample on working people in the pursuit of extreme greed.
Brendan Ogle: A homeless support group has described how the body of a homeless man was discovered in the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) today. This needless loss of human life on our streets is a personal tragedy for this man, and for their family and friends. It is hard to escape the dark symbolism of deaths of people without homes within the IFSC.
Brendan Ogle: There was a fascist demonstration outside the Dáil last Saturday in pursuance of building an Irish Nazi Party. Yes, in the era of Trump the virus has international tentacles which have reached here. For the first time since O’Duffy’s Blueshirts, fascists are on Irish streets.
About 200 turned up. The pretext was protesting because a gay Government Minister was photographed years ago with some English lad with questionable views on the age of sexual consent.
This is enough for the gay Minister to be called a paedophile by fascists using the decades-old trope that gay people abuse children. Funny, where this actually happened (actual child abuse) for decades in the Catholic Church, the fascists not only didn’t notice it but they applaud the Church and its extreme conservative lobby groups. They even write for them and invite them on their fascist protests and everything,
But don’t expect consistency. These are fascists, arch advocates of ‘the end justifies the means’. They wave Irish flags too, and declare themselves patriots, yet their organisers have links with loyalist paramilitaries, UKIP and the English Defence League. International fascism. A century and a decade ago, Connolly would have dealt with them. Dublin then had the forebears of this rabble, they were always among us, but there weren’t any of them in the Irish Citizen Army. No, they were the ones throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at them in 1916 and siding with the oppressor.
You can see the lines of argument though. Agree with our fascism or you aren’t a patriot. Agree with us or you support paedophilia. They’ve already used the ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘anti-corruption’ tropes. It’s classic Germany of the 1920s, if any of them had ever read a book. But it appears only the ringleaders have, and they are following the supremacists’ ‘to do list’ assiduously.
Predictably, the event was full of angry men roaring and spouting hate into microphones, threatening people. In case anybody is unsure of their hateful intent, they usefully produced banners with nooses on them. A small number of people (10) turned up to counter protest, and were violently attacked. It looked like a KKK rally; all it was missing were hoods and a burning cross.
But here’s the point. They are disappointed at the numbers and I have seen them frustratingly asking “why did so many people turn up for anti-water-charges protests but not for us”?
This puts me in mind of this photo. This is the Garda Public Order Unit at an anti-water-charges march on 10 December 2014. I’m wondering why did these guys turn up for the Right2Water march, but not on Saturday?
The march back then had 70,000 attendees and ended with a five hour rally. There was no hate speech, no incitement, no fascism, no defamation, no violence. But the Government of the day was threatened, and ultimately defeated, on the issue. And because they were threatened, they sent this.
But it would appear they aren’t threatened by Saturday’s mob of hate. They are probably right. Certainly the numbers attending and the pathetic election results would suggest they are right. But it’s fascism. It’s violent and it’s inciting violence and hatred. The public deserve to be protected from such menace.
Brendan Ogle: When I joined the Amalgamated Transport & General Workers’ Union (now Unite) over 20 years ago the Union was affiliated to the Labour Party (this remained the case until Unite rightly disaffiliated in 2013) but had a policy in place called ‘The Third Way’. This policy was passed, produced in booklet form, and pushed both within the Union and the Labour Party.
The policy, which I agreed with, was very simple. It argued that the Labour Party should have a rule forbidding entering coalition with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael because, if it did so, the result could only be that both of those parties would have to come together to form a Government. While negative in itself this, however, would then open up a political space on the left and Ireland would have a right/left political system rather than the old ‘my Grandad was a great Dev/Collins man’ baloney that passed for ‘politics’ in this state for far too long.
Of course the Labour Party rejected such a notion of principle and strategy, and instead decided to continue to offer itself up as a mudguard to both Fianna Fail (FF) and Fine Gael (FG) as and when demanded by them and the conservative media consensus. This approach reached its inevitable low point with the despised FG/Labour Government from 2011-2016, when the Labour Party made an enemy of its own voter base in order to protect Fine Gael’s. It resulted in the loss of 80% of its seats along with any respect or moral authority, and the party has been borderline irrelevant ever since. As Civil War politics ends at last, the Labour Party can ponder from their small number of seats in opposition just what might have been had they recognised this day coming and brought it about much earlier.
In 2016 Noel Dempsey, former Deputy Leader of Fianna Fail and serial Minister, let the cat out of the bag when discussing that year’s election impasse. As FF and FG continued to slide in overall popularity, Dempsey was asked whether it was time both parties finally came together as, on policy, they were practically the same anyway. Dempsey put it bluntly by admitting that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael existing separately had prevented a left developing in Ireland. And he was right, on that anyway.
“Almost a century after independence we have still never had a progressive Government”
Almost a century after independence we have still never had a progressive Government. We have never had a Government fundamentally committed to a re-distribution of wealth downwards. We have never had a Government that wasn’t led by either FF or FG. We have never had a Government that didn’t put the demands of the property and landlord class, the elites, the gombeens, over the needs of the people. We have never had a Government that put the good of the many above the greed of the few.
Obviously we have had people and parties who do not support this right wing hegemony but conservatism, both social and political, was so strong that they were always confined to the fringes. This has changed. The right to divorce has been followed by marriage equality, sexual freedom, improved gender rights and Repeal of the Eighth Amendment as people power pushed clerical and political conservatism aside on social issues. These seismic changes, however, stand in stark contract to economic policy. Ireland is a tax haven riddled with inequality, we have socialised tens of billions of Euro of private speculators’ debts, we have a health system built on ensuring private profit over public health, there is a housing emergency created and sustained to enrich landlords and vulture funds, and we have the worst workers’ and Trade Union rights in our peer group of nations within the EU. I could go on.
But we have never had an electable ‘left’. In a political landscape heretofore dominated by conservatism, it is not surprising that all we have seen to date is the development of a range of small principled but doctrinaire parties and individuals, none of which have ever gotten even 10% of the number of seats or votes necessary to come to power. It may not be surprising, but it can no longer be good enough. Some, on principle, don’t even want to come to power within a capitalist system and describe progressives who seek an alternative Government to FF and FG as mere ‘reformers’.
“The opportunity for reform has never been greater, nor the need more acute”
But the opportunity for reform has never been greater, nor the need more acute. The current programme for Government is a neoliberal charter of political expediency, a treaty entered into by those desperate for power for power’s sake. Sinn Fein (SF) will now lead an opposition as the largest party in the state. It is telling that the largest party in the state has less than half the seats necessary to form a majority Government, but SF are nevertheless entitled to highlight the hypocrisy of refusals to engage with them on entering Government by those who so loudly demanded they do exactly that in the North.
I have no doubt however that both SF, and any ambition for Ireland’s first non Fianna Fail or Fine Gael Government, would have been significantly damaged had SF entered Government with either of Ireland’s two Tory parties. SF have some of the policies and personnel to lead a very effective opposition. But if we are to finally see the Irish electorate push both of those parties out of office in the next election, the rest of the left needs to coalesce and move beyond the politics of protest and eternal opposition.
There is much to be learned from the mass protests and organisation that led to the social changes outlined above, and the anti-water charges movement too. But progressive policy principles in the areas of Health, Housing, Workers’ Rights and the Environment, including water, can now potentially form an electable political platform to put before the electorate next time round. There is a chance for various shades of opposition to now begin to work together with, for the first time, the achievable ambition of our first progressive Government.
On the weekend that the electorate finally forced Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to come together, rather than be downhearted let us look at this as a long necessary and overdue evolution. An opportunity.
“Irish politics has at last moved past the Civil War and is reaching adulthood”
Irish politics has at last moved past the Civil War and is reaching adulthood. The future is there for a better, fairer Ireland. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael coming together (and the Greens throwing themselves under a bus) creates the space to build for Ireland’s first progressive Government at last. Such a Government is a necessary ambition to drive greed and inequality out of office for once and for all.
As the EU line up to kick Ireland again, unions must lead in defending jobs, sustainable Irish business & provision of improved public services
Brendan Ogle: As the ESRI predict the worst recession in our history, trade unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) have led the way in providing a comprehensive and workable counter-analysis to the hawkish calls for austerity from Ireland’s crushing neoliberal consensus.
In the very weeks when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail first seemed to rule out tax increases going forward (including the ongoing refusal to accept the Apple Tax), and then state-led borrowing, an attack began on the COVID-19 payment, with people who have been forced into isolation being targeted for ‘being better off’ on €350 a week. Now we learn that, of €750bn targeted by the European Commission in a recovery fund of grants and loans for 27 member states, Ireland is earmarked for just €1.9 billion, a tiny 0.25% of the total. This for a country that Eurostat found had been forced to pay 42% of the total cost of the European banking debt following the financial crash.
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.
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:
When interpreters are at televised events, they must be beside speakers and on camera, no matter if the audience is national or international.
Media teams should receive Deaf Awareness training and always keep access and inclusivity in their minds.
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).
Consistent access to Irish Sign Language and subtitles across all media platforms, from TV channels (including the main one) and websites to social media.
Provide full access to ISL and subtitles for important events in our society like political debates.
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