Saturday 21 September 2019

John Daly: 'Parents are hard pressed to keep a roof over baby's head, minister'


Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath
Regina Doherty. Photo: Frank McGrath

John Daly

We try to take politicians seriously - that is until they appear seriously out of touch.

Regina Doherty's latest attack on young fathers who prefer to make "excuses" than to take time off to help their wives after a new arrival is a case in point.

The notion that €245 a week would suffice - as proposed by our Social Protection Minister - to stay home, suggests she is either badly in need of a reality check or tone deaf to the needs of young couples. Neither is acceptable in a country where young couples vie with 'cuckoo funds' buying apartment blocks off the plans when trying to rent a home; and where the prospect of buying one has probably gone for good.

On the street where I live there are 16 houses, five of which are mortgaged/owned by people over 50 (of which I am one) - the other 11 occupied by couples mostly under 30 squeezed to virtual exhaustion by rents that leap ever higher with each passing year.

"Time off work for any reason, no matter how genuine, is dangerous in today's job market," one of those young couples observed. The idea is even more absurd when you try to calculate how €245 can accommodate a monthly rent roll of €1,650.

Such a sentiment eloquently illustrates why the take-up rate of the scheme was below 50pc last year.

Like most streets in the nation, there are two personas in evidence. The external, which saw vivid display during last weekend's sunshine, is Irish people happy to talk and laugh about the daily triumphs and tribulations of life - kinda like the folks you see on TV adverts.

The hidden, internal persona inhabited by those 20 and 30-somethings, however, is an entirely different creature built upon the ever shifting sands of fear and dread - living pay cheque to pay cheque, always terrified of any financial jolt even as simple as the car failing the NCT.

The old joke always maintained that Irish people would give you the intimate details of their sex lives before disclosing any personal financial facts - such a cultural reluctance is a luxury no longer affordable by a generation poleaxed and broken by vulture funds that now dictate and dominate the rhythm of their lives.

When the notices of rent increases arrive through letterboxes on our street, we all know about it now, as the young couple affected - for they are invariably young - are forced to grasp any lifeline of alternative accommodation that us older folk might suggest to them. Well I remember an evening six years ago around the time this rental madness began, when a young neighbour approached me and asked if I'd consider renting out the garage. But it has no light, no water and its only the size of a bathroom, I protested. "We could manage with that for a few months," he replied.

That was the evening I came in from the garden and told the missus Ireland was fast becoming no country for the young.

"What we're trying to do is have a culture change," the minister informed.

"Home rearing has become predominantly associated with women. We need to change that culture."

That is surely a laudable proposition, and one that clearly flourishes in places like Scandinavia where social systems have been designed and refined over generations to do exactly what it says on the can.

But sadly, minister, such a system is far from the reality faced daily by the folks on my street, the people whose cars start at 5.30am on commutes to God knows where, back home at 7pm and the dreadful foreboding of what brown envelope awaits on the mat.

Young mums and dads don't need to be told how important that first year's bonding with their baby is, they know that better than you realise. Trouble is, they're so hard pressed to keep a roof over that infant's head, the notion of getting all happy-clappy about €245 is about as fanciful as those flying dragons on 'Game of Thrones'.

Irish Independent

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