It has been said before that there is a kind of denial of class division in Ireland. But everyone knows that there is a class system, a lower and upper and so on, though the insistence appears to be that there are mainly “normal people like us”, who are annoyed for the most part by “skangers”, “scumbags”, “posh fuckers” and the “super rich”.
The socially unfortunate are explained away by seizing on a kind of catholic throwback understanding, part karma and part divine retribution, which amounts to the judgment that they “brought it on themselves” by, usually, “not working hard enough”.
The new homeless fall into this category, a kind of secular damned, suffering the torments brought about by original economic sin of borrowing too much, and, presumably, “not working hard enough.”
The various prejudices that hold the whole thing together are supplemented by selective readings of the news. Stats are particularly good for propping up the illusion that everything is hunky dory. Just don’t contrast stories from different ends of the spectrum or they’re likely to ignite and blow up in your face.
Take today for instance, December 15th 2017.
The Irish Times had a story reporting over 10% growth in GDP, with the strong pick-up due to “personal consumption”. If you want to support the system, Leo’s Ireland, and pat yourself on the back for being of optimistic outlook, you’ll seize on that reported 10.5% growth figure and think no more about it.
But if you read down through the article you’ll find that the figure isn’t as solid as it might first appear to be, due to difficulties in acquiring accurate measurements of GDP. By the end of the article the true figure for GDP growth is somewhere between 6.5% and 10%, maybe.
Goodbody analyst Dermot O’Leary is quoted as saying, “the headline GDP growth estimate of 10.5 per cent year on year is not a realistic gauge of the pace of growth in Ireland in Q3 2017…”
That the article leads with the headline “Irish economy surges to double-digit growth,” is a fair indication that the Irish Times believes that this is what we should believe. But the headline is an inaccurate exaggeration of the true story, almost tabloidy so, proving that in mean times even the formerly urbane may become a little calloused.
Meanwhile, over in RTE, Fr Peter McVerry was also quoting figures to Cathal MacCoille on Morning Ireland, the dialogue reported in Broadsheet. Fr McVerry was calling for a rent freeze, describing the current housing crisis as “beyond crisis”. He warned that within months all available hotel accommodation would be used up.
“In January this year,” he said, “there were 410 families in emergency accommodation. In July, there were 659 families in emergency accommodation. The numbers are just going up and up and up. And I would describe the situation, it’s like a boat that’s drifting, it’s drifting towards the rocks and there doesn’t seem to be any engine that’s trying to drift it away from the rocks and there doesn’t seem to be anybody in charge. The problem is just getting worse and I see no measures being taken to try and address that problem in the short term.”
Fr McVerry went on to say that “the primary cause now of homelessness, of 90% of the new people becoming homeless is the private, rental sector. Their rents have gone through the roof. People can no longer afford them…”
Wait! Didn’t the other article in the Irish Times say that the GDP was up due mainly to personal consumption?
“The latest quarterly national accounts show gross domestic product (GDP) accelerated by 4.2 per cent in the third quarter alone amid a pick-up in personal consumption…”
Hmmm… Could these stories be connected?
Fr McVerry said that he and others have been calling for rent freezes for over a year now, but these calls have been ignored, and while rents have increased dramatically, rent supplement from the department of social protection has decreased.
“The rents, nationwide, in the last three and a half years,” said Fr McVerry, “have gone up by an average of €50 per week. In Dublin they’ve gone up by over €90 per week on average and the rent supplement has been reduced by 28% – there is just no correlation now between the rent supplement and the rents that are being demanded by the landlord.”
Fr McVerry said that Alan Kelly, Minster for Environment, Community and Local Government had promised a rent freeze last February. (It’s kind of wonderfully Orwellian that he’s minster for community.)
“…he said he was going to do it – he actually said he was going to introduce emergency rent freeze. We’ve heard nothing since.”
If there were some correlation between increasing rents and “surging GDP” due to “personal consumption”, a rent freeze might mess up the surging GDP, effectively freezing the recovery. This leaves the government really with a choice on what to freeze, like so many economic housewives. Given that many of them are landlords we shouldn’t be too surprised that they often choose, by neglect, to freeze the homeless. Sure, they probably deserve it anyway. If they’d worked harder when they had the chance they wouldn’t be homeless. They’ve only themselves to blame.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, someone shared a Christmas card from President Michael D. Higgins. The president’s Christmas Message was: “To give protection, food and water to those who are fleeing war, oppression or starvation is a matter of fundamental, universal human solidarity. The refusal to do so goes beyond that remarkable phrase coined by Pope Francis – ‘the globalisation of indifference’, as indifference is slowly turning into mistrust and hostility.”
If the sentiment of that rubs you up the wrong way, there was consolation to be found further down the news feed, where someone shared a clip from the Dáil debate on homelessness, with Richard Boyd Barrett quoting the Taoiseach as saying “There is no such thing as a free home.” Which stands as a nice contrasting Christmas message to Michael D’s perhaps dated sentiments.
As you can see, with careful selectivity, the news always has something for everyone.
I was a bit inspired myself by the Taoiseach’s quote, and I made up a Christmas card meme in keeping with the sentiments and priorities of Leo’s New Ireland.
When I framed the question in the title I didn’t have a ready answer. I was being a bit cute. But an answer came to me hours later. What shall we freeze for Christmas? Our hearts. We must freeze our hearts for the sake of the economy’s health. It’s the only way forward.
Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. May you never have to make your bed out in the cold.