Sunday 25 September 2016

Joan's scissors make cruellest cut of all

Opening ceremonies for food banks. And a civil service dress code. Say I'm dreaming, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Help me, please. Tell me I'm imagining this stuff. It would be a relief to find out that the mental strain of living in Endaland had caused a temporary hallucination. It would be truly worrying to discover that these things really happened last week.

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Joan Burton celebrated the opening of a food bank.

Enda Kenny warned us about what he'll do to the unemployed if we re-elect him.

Michael Noonan sneered at boom-and-bust policies, then he resolved to cut back on regulations designed to prevent a boom and a bust.

And Ruairi Quinn managed the astonishing feat of standing truth on its head while patting himself on the back and simultaneously talking through his backside.

A food bank is a good thing and it's a bad thing.

It's a good thing because food that might otherwise be wasted is diverted to people who can't afford to buy food.

It's a bad thing because it signifies social, political and economic failure. We have arranged things so unfairly that increasing numbers of people can't afford to buy food. And that, after eight years of austerity, isn't a side-effect. It wasn't unexpected. There's no shortage of evidence that prolonged austerity produces such consequences.

One thing you don't do, surely, is rejoice at the opening of a food bank? This was the Crosscare central facility in Dublin, a kind of Central Bank of food banks. And there was Joan Burton with a scissors. And a red ribbon. And a huge grin on her face as she delightedly cut the ribbon and launched this new flagship development of which she is so proud.

At least, that's what happened in my hallucination. I looked at the photo of Joan and her grin and her red ribbon. I checked for evidence that this was an internet Photoshop joke. No, it seems real, but surely it can't be?

Surely not even Joan Burton can be so crass? The evidence, though, suggests it happened.

Meanwhile, Enda Kenny made a speech. If he's re-elected he'll give "large sections of Irish society the opportunity to access the world of work".

Mr Kenny was addressing Ibec, the bankers and bosses trade union. And if you've been around a while, you know what Mr Kenny means.

It suggests the Economic Management Council intends to cut the social protection payments we've paid for through our taxes. Mr Kenny said "work should always pay more than welfare". And, no, he wasn't calling on Ibec to raise wages.

Mr Kenny and many of those he represents believe there are hundreds of thousands of jobs waiting for people to take. They believe - to use Michael Noonan's sneering phrase - that many unemployed people are "allergic to work".

So, you cut their payments to make lousy wages seem more attractive. And/or make the unemployed jump through more hoops to get the money to which they are entitled. This will make them take all those non-existent jobs.

The Lone Parent cuts implemented by Joan Burton are the model for this.

Yes, it's mad and it's cruel, but it plays well to about a quarter of the electorate, and that's Fine Gael's electoral base.

Meanwhile, Michael Noonan promises to end the boom-and-bust economic cycle. This is one of those phrases that doesn't mean what Michael thinks it means - but it makes him sound responsible, so he says it repeatedly.

He said it last week - no more boom and bust. Then he announced he's going to try to nobble the Central Bank's mortgage cap rules. These rules have been around only eight months. They're designed to prevent another economic implosion.

But the builders think these rules are preventing another building boom/bubble. So they asked Michael to nobble the rules, and he promised he'll do his best.

After all, builders are intelligent folk. It's true they ran their own businesses into the ground in pursuit of ever-increasing profits. But this time they'll be careful, I'm sure. And so is Michael.

And Ruairi Quinn picks this moment to make an emotional speech about how poor little Labour never got enough support from the people, but they "defeated the Fine Gaelers". He said he and his comrades are "a lonely tribe of adventurers, of pioneers, of visionaries" who "defeated the Fianna Failers" and "have brought this country into the 21st Century".

Ah, Ruairi, you're a gas man. The great civilising movement that fought the contraception and divorce and marriage equality battles had Labour members involved, but the party had other priorities.

There were Fine Gael women in that fight. There were people far to the left of Labour in that fight. Yes, we changed this country, but your party was always a brake, never an accelerator.

From 1932 to 1977 your leaders were members of the Knights of Columbanus, the secretive Catholic network. Your party bowed as low as the Fianna Failers ever did when the bishops required it.

In 2011 you - with great solemnity - pledged not to introduce third-level fees. You increased them as soon as you became Minister for Education. You produced an advert that warned that Fine Gael would increase VAT and car tax and the price of wine. Vote Labour or they'll cut child benefit, you said. They'll increase Dirt tax by 3pc and impose a water tax, you said.

You got into office and increased VAT and car tax and the price of wine. You cut child benefit, increased Dirt tax by 14pc and imposed a water tax.

Challenged, leader Eamon Gilmore said, Ah, sure, that was going to be a flat charge that took no account of the amount of water you use. He was still against that, he said.

Now, we have a flat charge that takes no account of the amount of water you use. Imposed by a Labour minister. To match the benefit cuts imposed by another Labour minister.

Stop the whining, Ruairi. You and your party have been in office for 16 of the past 35 years. Depart with some grace. And enjoy the pension.

All recessions end, sooner or later. When this recession began, some of us said the struggle would be about who would pay for it. We said the right would protect the wealthy and all the structural inequalities they enjoy. And they'd make the low and medium-paid workers and small businesses pay.

And so it has been. Today, in the midst of the recovery, hospital A&E wards are more stressed than ever. Homelessness is epidemic, as the right protects the structural inequalities that place market forces above human need. One in six of those born in Ireland now lives abroad. And increasing numbers look to food banks to stave off hunger.

Taking a break from cutting benefits, Joan Burton's department hired consultants to review their culture and values. And they reported that Joan's executives are annoyed that some members of staff aren't sufficiently well-dressed. Right scruffs, they are, it seems.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett and Fine Gael Chief Whip Paul Kehoe had panic attacks because Mick Wallace wears pink and Richard Boyd Barrett won't tuck his shirt into his pants. They tried and failed to end this state of affairs. And they gave up.

The snooty chaps at the top of the Department of Social Destruction are made of sterner stuff. They'll put manners on those members of staff who don't dress like bankers. They want a "dress code" to improve "the sense of professionalism and pride".

The report produced to chronicle this madness cost us €99,750.

Please, please, tell me someone's been putting LSD in my Complan and I'm imagining all this.

Sunday Independent

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