Children are expensive little luxuries. You can't sell them on -- even at a loss -- or send them out to work (not legally) and by the time they reach 18 the little blighters have cost you at least €200,000 at a very conservative estimate. Kids -- who'd have 'em, eh? Or at least, who'd have more than two or three?
Today the average number of children per family is 1.38 (rate is 2.1 per woman), down from 1.41 in 2006. Two seems to be the number that most families can deal with and anecdotally it seems that the third child is often one of those 'accidents' that occur later in life.
Most of my own peer group -- with two kids, massive mortgages, decreasing wage packets and the cost of existing rising exponentially -- are terrified at the prospect of another little mouth to feed; the pill, condoms, coils, the snip, tied tubes, willpower, prayer and filthy foreign sex practices are just some of the preventative measures used by families who currently can just about feed and clothe little John and Mary -- thank God for Aldi and Penneys.
But in Ireland there are 1,592 families who have seven or more children -- even the thought of their food bill is terrifying -- and Jason Casey from Limerick and his wife are one of these families; they currently have eight children.
I say 'currently' because Casey says: "The truth is, I love having babies and my wife loves having babies. I'll keep having babies." Which is fair enough. It's a free country. The man and his wife can have as many babies as they manage.
The problem though is that Casey is unemployed and has been on a housing list for the last 10 years. He lost his job two years ago when the construction sector collapsed and has since then tried work as a hot-dog seller but, he says, the council refused to give him a licence to trade. He has said that he dearly wants to earn a crust and that he doesn't want his children to see him begging off the State. He has also said that he thinks people in receipt of social welfare should do voluntary work in the community.
However, he states that it is his constitutional right (this is not the case) to be given a house that is adequate to his family's needs (they are currently in a three-bed, which, it must be acknowledged, he privately rents) and has been staging a protest for the past six weeks outside Limerick City Hall. He says his family manage -- but they shouldn't have to just manage -- not when there are so many Nama houses out there just waiting to be occupied.
Now, Casey has a point. There's a glut of houses available at the moment and as the Simon Community -- or indeed any organisation working with the homeless or deprived -- will tell you, there's an awful lot of people who could do with them.
Is Casey (and families like his) entitled to have first dibs on getting the State to pay for a big house (and all the associated welfare benefits accruing to such a large family), in order that he may continue to procreate at a rate that would put a smile on Pope Benedict's face?
The short answer? No, in my opinion, he is not.
Not because the State should not provide adequate accommodation for citizens in need but because Mr Casey seems to be ignorant of the responsibilities that accompany his 'right' to such benefits. One of those responsibilities is to at least attempt not to accumulate costs that he then demands the State pay.
Sadly Mr Casey, and those who carelessly demand 'rights' and 'entitlements', give those who are opposed to the welfare state additional ammunition to destroy it.
The welfare state is one of -- perhaps the -- most civilised and enlightened social constructs in history.
Welfare states do not just benefit those who are in need, unemployed, ill or disabled. Welfare states benefit everyone -- rich and poor -- who lives in them.
All recent research proves that the more equal a society, the more prosperous, healthy and advanced it is. Unequal societies -- those with less robust welfare policies -- have higher levels of mental illnesses, drug abuse, imprisonment, more cases of teenage pregnancies and obesity and a decline in child well-being. These symptoms do not just affect those in the lower strata of society but everyone. (This is why recent figures showing the rise of inequality in Ireland should really worry us!)
We all make up the society that has responsibility for each other's needs. At present, in this austere climate, there is a lot of need out there and a lot of people who have a right to government -- that is social -- assistance.
There are the people who had to leave their sub-standard homes in Priory Hall for instance: people who worked and were duped by pathetic building 'regulations' and cowboy builders.
There are the increasing numbers of homeless people; there are the self-employed who are now unemployed and entitled to nothing from the State; there are children who are going to bed or school hungry; there are the most deprived people in the country, single parents, some living in dilapidated houses and now being forced out to work when their child reaches the age of seven; there are the hundreds of thousands of working poor who have less than €100 left after paying the bills each month. . . the list is endless.
There are the majority of us, the coping classes, who ask for little, receive less and are happy to contribute to those who are currently on their uppers -- God knows, it could be us tomorrow.
But what we aren't happy to contribute to is this culture of entitlement that seems to permeate, not just at the top layer of Irish society; the bankers, builders, politicians, civil servants etc, who seem to think the recession doesn't apply to them -- but also to those, like Mr Casey, who have contributed but don't seem to acknowledge their obligation to limit the costs they impose on the rest of society.
From the top to the bottom levels of society we need to see less of this culture of entitlement and more of personal responsibility, because those in the middle just can't continue to pay for it.