It’s the last week before the Dáil breaks for Christmas and the New Year. All across this state there are families reeling from the damaging impact of the scrooge-like budget that was delivered by the Irish government last week. Hard choices are being made by parents between presents and food and heat and the mortgage.
James Connolly in 1915 in the Workers Republic said:
“In the long run the freedom of a nation is measured by the freedom of its lowest class; every upward step of that class to the possibility of possessing higher things raises the standard of the nation in the scale of civilization.”
On this basis the Irish Labour Party has abandoned its claim to Connolly’s socialist roots. To its shame the Irish Labour Party has bought into and is helping the conservative Fine Gael party to implement a budget that is severely hurting the low paid, the vulnerable in this society and the lowest class.
The outcome of the budget means that lone parents; teachers; the disabled and carers; the unemployed; the elderly; and children are all significantly worse off. The number of children deprived of very basic essentials has risen from 23.5% two years ago to 30.2%. It is a fact that every measure of poverty and inequality is rising.
Homeless support groups like Focus Ireland and the Simon Community in this part of the island report a significant increase in the demand for their services. In particular they have seen an increase in demand for support from people who have become homeless as a direct result of financial and emotional hardship arising from the recession.
There are 5000 homeless while around 200 citizens sleep rough. A TD can stand on the plinth outside the Dáil here and see the grim reality of homelessness in Dublin, where night after night - from summertime to the depths of freezing winter - people are forced to sleep rough.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the housing crisis. Over 100,000 families are on local authority housing waiting lists and there are over 90,000 people claiming rent supplement, an emergency benefit for those unable to meet the cost of rent in the private sector.
The government has cut homeless budgets in the HSE and in the Department of Environment. Housing budgets to local authorities have also been slashed by a staggering 26%. Personal contributions to rent and mortgage interest supplement have been increased and once again the Government is planning to reduce maximum rent thresholds.
And all of this at a time when hundreds of thousands of housing units – houses and apartments - across the state lie empty. Most now owned by NAMA.
The government appears so indifferent to this crisis that the Taoiseach has thus far refused to appoint a new Minister for Housing to take charge of this deteriorating situation.
The last Minister Labour TD Willie Penrose resigned from the Cabinet and lost the party whip after opposing a decision by the government to close an Army barracks in Mullingar. He is one of three Labour TDs – Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty being the others – who have jumped from the Labour ship over disagreements on the budget and bank guarantee.
The housing crisis is only one part of the tale. Five years ago there were 1,281 excess winter deaths. Most were elderly and vulnerable citizens. This year there will be more.
In September the government cut the weekly fuel allowance; it also cut the household benefits package fuel allowances and last week’s budget cut the fuel allowance by the equivalent of €120.
And then there has been the disgraceful treatment of the five women in St. Brendan’s Hospital in Grangegorman. The five, who are long term patients, have been forced to move into a ‘lock-up’ secure unit with six other patients because the facility does not have sufficient nurses and Christmas holidays mean that there is a staff shortage. They will be there for five weeks.
The five women are being moved from a ward in which they have already erected a Christmas tree and decorations.
The decision has caused distress to their relatives and to these vulnerable women.
The treatment of the five is a shocking indictment of government policy and of our mental health service. Mental health provision is the Cinderella of our health service. These women should be cherished not victimised.
All these injustices are examples of a government making political choices and deciding that instead of making those who can afford to pay more, pay more, it is penalizing the vulnerable and disadvantaged, as well as low and middle income earners. The social consequence is that for many families these policy decisions will leave many homes colder and poorer this Christmas.