'State is seen as the enemy' warns TD Halligan
The hunger strike of Tony Rochford has finally reached the floor of the Dail, writes John Drennan
Independent TD John Halligan has warned that for an increasing number of the coping classes, and in particular the self-employed, the State is seen as "a cold and distant enemy, which is not interested in their plight".
The TD was referring to the plight of a self-employed tiling contractor, Tony Rochford, who has been reduced to such a state of desperation he went on hunger strike to draw attention to his plight.
In the wake of Mr Halligan raising the issue in the Dail, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told the TD that he will meet the tiling contractor, on condition he goes off his hunger strike for a minimum of three days prior to the meeting.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Halligan noted he had raised the issue with reluctance, because "you don't want to encourage people to take such a drastic course of action".
However, in the wake of testimonials about Mr Rochford's status as "a well-respected member of the community who had been a good employer" and in order to "highlight the plight of the self-employed coping classes when they try to access social welfare, I raised the issue".
In the Dail, Mr Kenny claimed that "I know from reports from the Minister for Social Protection that very substantial numbers are receiving jobseeker's benefit who were self-employed.''
The Taoiseach also said that he would "hate to think that a citizen of our country would be outside the gates of the Houses of Parliament in a situation where he is on hunger strike and where we cannot deal with the circumstances''.
Mr Halligan, however, told the Sunday Independent that the reality for most "self-employed, be they builders or former business owners, is that to secure social welfare they have to go through hell and back, they are viewed suspiciously by the State as a nuisance. They in turn see social welfare and the State as being instinctively hostile to their concerns''.
Mr Halligan added that "there are enough people talking about the unemployed, no one speaks for the self-employed members of the coping classes. They are the hidden Ireland who are now in dire financial hardship, where they are relying on the Society of St Vincent de Paul for support."
And he added: "There is no real understanding or empathy at the top of Government, who have a secure pay cheque each month, with the uncertainty and fear that has gripped the coping classes today."
Mr Halligan added that the action of Mr Rochford "who had been forced to dip into his savings simply to survive'' vindicated his concern that in a scenario where "we allow 700,000 people to live in poverty, people will take radical actions such as this unfortunate man''.
Intriguingly, Mr Halligan claimed the tipping point for Mr Rochford had been his decision to take a stand against the household property tax by refusing to pay.
In the Dail, Mr Halligan noted that "we all know the conscientious decisions that have been made in the Dail over the past number of weeks, which people are entitled to make''.
In the case of Mr Rochford, however, one consequence of his decision was that he would not be "allowed to secure a tax compliance certificate, which would prevent him from working''.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Halligan said such a punishment, "where if you don't pay the property tax you cannot even work, is disproportionate''.
He added that "an attitude such as this, where a whole swathe of people have been bludgeoned against their will, is probably the reason the Government is becoming one of the most unpopular of recent years''.
In this case, Mr Halligan said, the disproportionate nature of the punishment explained why "so many in the coping classes now simply see the cold state and conventional politics as the enemy".