Carol Hunt

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Making a virtue of inflicting pain on the most vulnerable

Those who make and influence the rules remain protected from economic reality.

Carol Hunt

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

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To people who selflessly give their time to collect for charity the attitudes of certain top people in Rehab is incomprehensible
To people who selflessly give their time to collect for charity the attitudes of certain top people in Rehab is incomprehensible

The phrase "moral turpitude" has been rattling around my brain all week and, try as I might, I can't get rid of it. It turned up originally in the context of poor Nigella Lawson's embarrassing episode at Heathrow airport, when it transpired that her visa for entry to the US was being denied on the grounds of moral turpitude. Moral turpitude, according to the Merriman dictionary, is "an act or behaviour that gravely violates the moral sentiment or accepted moral standards of the community" – and some US official had decided that Nigella's admission of drug taking last year came under that definition.

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So, you'll understand why as I sat watching the continuing drama that is PAC vs Rehab, I thought to myself, "Well now, if ever there was an Irish example of moral turpitude, this is it". Because the central complaint against Angela and Frank and all the others who were part of the, "Because We're Worth It" brigade, is that, while they did not not do anything unlawful, they most certainly have acted in a way that "violates the accepted moral standards of the community".

To those of us who have spent our last fiver on Rehab scratch cards or hours in the rain jiggling buckets in front of hard-pressed shoppers with little spare cash; to those who struggle daily trying to care for the most vulnerable in our society in the face of myriad cuts to that sector; to those who believe that disability or age shouldn't make you a second-class citizen with few or no rights, the attitudes of certain top members of the Rehab Group (and CRC before it) are incomprehensible.

Don't they know the difference between right and wrong? Between morality and immorality? Don't they know that taking hundreds of thousands of euro in salaries, pensions and fees from an organisation that is funded primarily by the State and by voluntary contributions – which are intended to be given to those most in need – is disgustingly, selfishly obscene? Don't they

understand the damage that they have done, not just to their own charity but to all of those excellent organisations staffed by very hard-working and committed people who depend on the charity of strangers? Obviously they don't. Because if Frank Flannery or Angela Kerins understood that their behaviour came under the heading "moral turpitude" they surely would have no option but to come into the PAC, apologise profusely and attempt to make amends.

But the reason why we're not likely to see them do that any time soon is because, if you actually sit down and think about it, you'll come to the depressing conclusion that their behaviour, by Irish standards, does not constitute "moral turpitude" at all. Because by the standards of their "community", the political and privileged upper public sector classes, their actions are totally normal and commonplace.

The standards of this "community" have become, almost imperceptibly, sicker and sicker each year. Pay increases, increments, bonuses, severance pay-outs, gold-plated pensions, expense accounts – that's daily Irish civic life. It's the "Sir Humphrey" from Yes Minister style of politics, because the people who make the decisions about who gets what are the ones who benefit from it.

Cui bono? They do.

Hmm, says senior civil servant number one, should I cut my salary so we don't have to further slash respite grants? Feck that, he says, and bang go the grants.

Oh dear, says senior civil servant number two, there's another women's aid group in danger of being closed down for lack of funds, and more special needs teachers to be axed – but it's that or my guaranteed pension pot, so what can I do?

It's been estimated that the current State liability for future public sector pensions is about a whopping €110bn – nearly double the cost of the bank bailout. Meanwhile, over half of Irish workers have no pension at all to look forward to apart from that provided by the State.

Does Angela Kerins, for instance – who will waltz off with a very hefty pension pot – know or care that 70 per cent of Irish women have no pension whatsoever? Does it bother her that we still have to cough up for hers (at least 40 per cent of her income is from public funds)? As one of the aforementioned, it certainly bothers me. But who do you complain to?

Angela and her ilk quite clearly believe they are 'worth it', and they are symptomatic of the rottenness that pervades Irish political and civic culture. Most of us don't need Mary Lou McDonald, John McGuinness or Shane Ross to tell us that giving yourself and your mates huge salaries, bonuses, pensions and expense accounts from the public purse while simultaneously making some of the most vulnerable people in the country work for buttons (or making them redundant) is obscene and immoral.

But hang on, isn't that just what this Government is doing – and has been doing – ever since it got into office? What is its austerity drive but taking from those most in need while ensuring that its own feather beds remain snug and comfy? It promised new politics and then proceeded to continue with exactly the same old cossetted cronyism we thought we'd got rid of with the last shower.

Even worse, the Government has made a virtue out of inflicting pain on the most vulnerable in society while it remains protected from economic reality. And when one considers the size of its members' pension pots, they will continue to remain oblivious for the rest of their lives.

Meanwhile, who pays? We do.

Sunday Independent

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