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Tag Archives: Amo on Monday

From top: journalist Cathal MacCoille, UN Special Rapporteur for Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha (centre) and Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, in Buswells Hotel last week at a Simon Communities event, ‘Making the Case for a Right to Housing’; Anne Marie McNally

This day last week I sat in a room in Buswells Hotel and watched one of the most impressive women I’ve come across lately give a presentation (and I come across a lot of impressive women!). That woman was UN Special Rapporteur on Housing Leilani Farha.

Her no-nonsense common-sense presentation highlighted the problems of not only Ireland but of other cities and countries that have also encountered significant difficulties with getting housing policy right.

The difference was, for most of the other cities she spoke of, she was able to give examples of how, by working with her and other agencies, those cities had been able to make progress in dealing with the housing crises they faced.

Ms Farha reminded us that Ireland has signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in doing so we have committed to ending homelessness by 2030. But what strategies are we deploying to achieve this. asked Ms Farha? Or is it yet another EU target which we sign up to but never expect to actually meet-like our climate targets?

Portugal on the other hand, have worked with Ms Farha’s team and have now implemented policies with a goal to eradicate homelessness by 2028- and they’re on track to achieve this.

Other countries and cities are also starting to get things right whereas we continue to spiral. Our homelessness figures continue to rise – despite the cynical manipulation of same by those in power. Housing continues to move further and further from the reach of many people – even those working and earning what could be considered decent wages.

Successive Government policy has tinkered around the edges, never really making the substantive changes required to shift from what has increasingly been a market-led approach to housing; an approach that is obviously failing, to a sustainable system of affordable housing that is accessible to all.

That is why the Social Democrats favour a Right to Housing. As Ms Farha pointed out; there is much confusion over what the term Right to Housing means and in her experience even Governments are confused about the concept.

Those who fear that an equal society will somehow minimise their own privilege reject the concept because ‘nobody should get a house for free’ – as Leo himself actually said in the Dáil chamber during a recent housing debate.

However if those knee-jerk reaction people took their heads from their own arses long enough they might actually see that a Right to Housing does not in fact mean that every Joe Soap can knock on Leo’s door looking for their home.

A Right to Housing enshrined either constitutionally or legislatively simple means that Government housing strategies MUST ensure that there is a wide variety of housing types that are affordable and accessible to all citizens.

In other words, Joe might want a 3 bedroom semi but he doesn’t have a right to one. What he does have a right to is a housing system where he can access the kind of unit he can afford based on his current circumstances. Basically that it is impossible for him to be completely priced out of the housing market.

In that way we move away from the spectre of homelessness hanging over people. How many people do you know who are one or two pay packets from the streets? For me it’s a lot.

And this failure of housing policy is not just costing us socially in terms of the lives we are destroying both now and into the future – over 3,000 children in emergency accommodation living in fear and uncertainty is not the recipe for a healthy next generation of society – but it is costing us economically.

The seminar Ms Farha spoke at was told that in 2017 just over €1 billion (yes, billion) was transferred to private landlords in housing supports. One third of every tenancy in the State is in receipt of a housing support payment.

It makes no sense either socially or economically and yet as a nation we continue to elect Governments that pretend the market will provide the solution to the housing emergency. It never has done in the past, it’s not doing it now and it never will do.

Housing is the number one issue of our time. Ms Farha said she would go as far as to say that it is a more pressing issue than climate because, she said, societies that cannot provide safe and secure housing options cannot be, and are not, sustainable. They will fail.

We are failing and we will continue to do so until we recognise the need to enshrine the Right to Housing either constitutionally or legislatively.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan with asylum seekers Anna (left) and Olugide with her baby Gloria at a Christmas Party last year in the Montague Direct Provision Centre for Refugees in County Laois; Anne Marie McNally

This week I watched with admiration and respect at the women who finally felt they had their voices heard and the horrors of their earlier years acknowledged. The women who arrived not just from around the country but from around the globe, returned here to put faces to the horrors, to have their personal stories heard and to see people take to the streets to cheer them.

I had a dinner party recently and of six people around the table, five of us had tales to tell of direct family connections to the laundries or a mother and baby home. This is not something that happened long ago or ‘to others’ this is something that is very recent, very real and very raw.

Those of us who tuned into PrimeTime or who lined Dawson Street to cheer the women as they entered the Mansion House did so because what those women endured deserves not only to be apologised for but to be aired and aired repeatedly because the most important element of all their bravery is that in telling their tales of horrors they can ensure that we, as a State, never make the same mistake again.

Of never outsourcing responsibility, never perpetuating a culture of false shame or degradation, and never again institutionalising innocent people under the guise of a social service

But if that lesson has indeed been learned and we feel so righteous in our ability to look back and wag a knowing finger at how horrific that system of institutionalisation was, why then do we currently ignore the fact that we are, right now in this Ireland that honoured Magdalenes, continue to warehouse men women and children in horrendous conditions and degrade those people as if they are somehow less than?

That is not hyperbolic in the slightest. At the last official count we currently had 5,096 people living in Direct Provision centres across this State and 1,420 of those were children and 104 are people older than 56 years of age.

That is 5,096 people forced to survive on an allowance of €21.60 per week. (This amount is payable to every adult and every child in Direct Provision).

Even if you ignore the economic unfairness of expecting someone to survive on the guts of twenty quid a week, the ignominy of how these people are forced to live is a stain on our collective conscience. While some centres have self-catering facilities, many don’t and residents are forced to endure canteen food handed to them thus removing any element of personal choice.

Imagine not being able to choose what you or your children eat or having zero control over the nutrition of your children; how utterly dehumanising.

And that is what Direct Provision has succeeded in doing; dehumanising people in the eyes of the rest of us.

The out of town locations, the misinformation that is spread regarding what residents get and their ‘entitlements’ and a general toxic attitude of ‘isn’t it better than what they came from’ have all conspired to dehumanise and ostracise residents of Direct Provision and has given us the balm to salve a conscience that deep down knows we should be demanding an immediate end to the barbaric system.

Direct Provision was initially supposed to be for a six month period while people’s applications for asylum were processed. The current average time spent in Direct Provision is 23 months but of that ‘average’ some were up to 5 years in the system.

A lengthy prison sentence for daring to escape whatever horrors existed in their home country and for the audacity of trying to create a safer future for themselves and their children. Imagine.

And even now with asylum seekers recently having been granted the Right to Work, the ignominy continues and possibly deepens because yet again, in an attempt to turn a blind eye, many now say: “but sure they can get a job now and support themselves.”

While it is welcome that people have been granted the right to work it is important to understand the strict restrictions that go along with that right.

If you are an asylum seeker the work permit alone will cost between €500 to €1000.

But the real stinger here is this – applicants must find a job with a starting salary of €30,000 and there are over 60 sectors that the job cannot be in including construction and hospitality.

Given that the average graduate starting salary in Ireland is around €28,000, you’d be doing pretty well as an asylum seeker to be finding a job paying a minimum of €30,000.

The perception of what asylum seekers can do for themselves is very far from the reality and they suffer abuse, vitriol, humiliation and State-sponsored institutionalisation as a result.

So yes, Dublin did indeed ‘honour Magdalenes’ and rightly so, but unless we act now, we cannot celebrate a lesson learned. Instead we should reflect on the hypocrisy of it all.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Rollingnews

From top: from left: Prof William Binchy, Monica Hadarean, Cora Sherlock, at a LoveBoth conference in Buswells Hotel, Dublin last week; Anne Marie McNally

OK, look folks, it’s Referendum week and I really don’t feel like I have any option but to make one last desperate plea for a YES vote this coming Friday because, as so many commentators have said, this really is a once in a generation vote and as such its importance simply cannot be overstated.

I realise there are other significant public issues of concern right now, not least the ongoing cervical check scandal and the associated issues but here’s the thing; they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Vicky Phelan, the brave woman whose willingness to lay her tragedy bare so that this scandal would be aired, articulated that so perfectly in her tweet last week where she called for a YES vote on the basis that “we must place women at the centre of their own care and allow us to make the choice about our own care.”

Last week on here I wrote about Cervical Check. In another recent column I wrote about the National Maternity Hospital and the religious control issues at play there. I mentioned how women’s healthcare, particularly when it comes to anything below the bellybutton, has always been second rate.

By second rate I mean, there is almost some other influencing factor that is considered before the actual women (or sometimes girl) facing whatever situation confronts her.

For too many years in this country for the many young girls and women, who found themselves pregnant outside of wedlock, the primary consideration was the supposed shame that would ensue; shame on both her and her family.

A shame borne from an overbearing Church which controlled society to the point that families shunned their own children because they had brought ‘shame’ on the family. In too many of those cases those girls were sent into the care of church run Mother and Baby homes or Magdalene Laundries.

I don’t have to go into the detail of the atrocities that were perpetrated against those girls and women in those institutions but suffice to say, the health of those girls and women, both through pregnancy and after, was not considered important.

There is a list of examples of the kind of second rate healthcare for women that exists in Ireland and a short column just doesn’t allow for detail to be provided but I could mention the Hepatitis C scandal, the symphysiotomy scandal, I could even talk about how we had to fight to get access to bloody tampons for Christ’s sake and how a Bishop decried them on the basis that they might encourage sexual activity.

That’s before I’d get into talking about how we were denied contraception should any such sexual activity occur (If I could insert emoji’s here there’d be serious eye-roll emoji activity).

The list would be endless but primary among the horrors would be the continuation of a regime of forced pregnancy. Of continuing to enslave hordes of Irish women in a macabre experiment which sees women become something less than human the moment they become pregnant. They go from being a female person to an incubation machine which other people have the remote control for.

Other people are handed the power to determine how this incubation machine must operate. During the public hearings of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the 8th, veteran anti-choice lawyer William Binchy was put on the spot about whether he believed women should have an equal right to healthcare. He emphatically said yes.

When he was further asked if he believed women had an equal right to healthcare when pregnant he procrastinated. Because the fact of the matter is, no matter which way you dress it up, a NO vote quite simply ensures that a pregnant person will not have equal access to healthcare.

I absolutely respect a person’s choice to vote No. I understand people have reservations and concerns about abortion. In fact I would suggest that most people have reservations about abortion. It is never something that is taken lightly.

However while I respect people’s right to vote whichever way they choose, I do believe it’s important that the hyperbole is removed from the conversation and the basic facts of what that vote means is laid bare; a NO vote is a vote for women to continue to be treated as second-class citizens in our healthcare system and to be denied equal access to healthcare.

A YES vote is recognition that even though you, if faced with a situation, may make an entirely different choice to another woman, you would not seek to impose what’s right for you on her. A NO vote is a vote of control, a YES vote is a vote of compassion and understanding.

And lad…please get out and vote on Friday. We need you.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Emma Mhic Mhathúna on The Late Late Show last Friday; Anne Marie McNally

On this morning’s commute I was listening to a Dua Lipa tune and one lyric in particular struck me and immediately brought Emma Mhic Mhathúna, and the many other women to mind.

The lyric goes ‘You say you’re sorry, but it’s too late now, so save it, get gone, shut up..’ and I just thought, how utterly appropriate. All the sorrys in the world cannot right the wrongs perpetrated against these women and their families but as we know from previous scandals in this country, sometimes a sorry can be hugely important.

When Enda took to his feet in the Dáil that day to apologise to the Magdalene women it was a powerful moment.

However this current situation feels different; maybe because it is still so recent and therefore raw? Or maybe because sorry rings hollow when it come from within a system that hasn’t changed to reflect any acknowledgment of just how badly it failed.

When I was a kid pleading ‘I’m sorry’ while being chastised, my mother used to say to me ‘sorry means I won’t do it again’ and the problem with the current sorrys emanating from officialdom is that they simply don’t come with the promise that it won’t happen again.

Because it could. Because it might well be already happening in other areas of our health service.

Just last week in the Public Accounts Committee it was revealed to Catherine Murphy TD that there are currently four pending court cases involving patients of the BreastCheck service who believe they failed to have their cancers diagnosed appropriately.

We are all acutely aware that our health service is dysfunctional. Yes, there are millions of fantastic stories of people who have had great individual experiences once in the system (I include myself in that) but those individual cases are down, in many cases, to just sheer luck on the day and also to the tireless and often thankless work of the front-line staff in our health service.

But whether you’ve had a good experience or not, the simple fact is that the overall system is dysfunctional and those fantastic staff are working against the backdrop of a system that fails them and us daily.

At this stage people have heard so many calls for the abolition of the HSE that those calls now seem to ring hollow. There’s a general sense of malaise with our health service and an almost resigned acceptance that ‘this is how things are’. But it shouldn’t be.

Before I turned on Dua Lipa this morning I listened to RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland where Emma O’Kelly, the Education Correspondent, had a package regarding the complete lack of therapeutic supports for disabled children attending St John of God’s School in Islandbridge, Dublin 8.

The package included an interview with a couple whose child is impacted. The couple happened to be French citizens living in Ireland and they said they were shocked that vital public services like this are outsourced to a private charity.

They spoke about how lucky they are that they have the financial means to pay for private speech and language therapies and occupational therapies but that was offset by a young lone parent living in the flats I grew up in whose son is profoundly disabled and totally reliant on the services supposed to be provided in the school because she can simply not afford to arrange those services privately.

So one child will be guaranteed a better future than another child from the same school, all on the basis of the income of their parents. There is no other way to view that than as a complete abdication of responsibility by the State.

Similarly those women who are terrified right now by the thought that maybe their smear test wasn’t accurate or maybe they ignored other symptoms because they’d been reassured by a clear smear, can either face a waiting period in the public system through their GPs  or, if they can afford it, they can go an pay roughly €85 to a private clinic and have an immediate smear.

I could point to every other treatment required by people and there’d be a similar Private Vs Public story of one person guaranteed a better outcome than another all because of the balance in their bank account.

Our two tier system is the definition of unfair and it is an indictment of the failure to create a true modern Republic.

The unprecedented cross-party agreement to the Róisin Shortall led SláinteCare initiative to create a truly universal publicly accessible single tier health service is the only show in town but we need true dedication from Government to really get that show on the road and the many vested interests who profit from the current two-tier private/public model will have to be faced down completely.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: RTÉ

From top: Toaiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten; Anne Marie McNally

Last Wednesday morning (as every morning) before I’d even left the house, I checked the morning headlines on twitter. Upon doing so I came across a story that I surprisingly hadn’t heard on either of the 7:10 and 8:10am broadcasts of  Morning Ireland‘s ‘It Says in the Paperson RTÉ Radio One.

That story was by Mark Paul & Simon Carswell in the Irish Times and informed me that the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten, had (according to an affidavit filed by the ODCE to the High Court) taken a call from a PR executive acting on behalf of INM.

The executive in question works for Heneghan PR which is headed by Nigel Heneghan a long-term associate of Mr Leslie Buckley including in an adviser role.

One would have to assume (hope?) that when a Minister takes a call during which he imparts *anything* he does so clearly understanding exactly who he is speaking to. If we accept that is the case then it is clear the Minister was aware that he was basically speaking directly to Leslie Buckley, the Chairman of INM.

Why is that a problem you ask? OK, well ask yourself why is the Minister for Communications imparting sensitive information (personally or privately) to anybody associated with a media outlet, particularly one with such close ties to our home-grown media Svengali Denis O’Brien?

The ODCE’s affidavit reportedly shows that Mr O’Brien got an email from Mr Buckley advising him of the Minister’s information within hours of the PR exec’s conversation with the Minister.

A Communications Minister, Denis O’Brien and market-sensitive information in the one sentence. Now where have I heard that before? Hint…google Moriarty Tribunal. That alone makes the judgement error displayed by Minister Naughten, galling.

“I gave a personal opinion on what I thought was likely to happen” cried the Minister. Let’s put aside for a second the absolute ridiculousness of the premise that a Minister while in office on a public matter under his remit can give a personal opinion. Instead let’s draw the outline of what actually occurred.

We have a proposed media merger involving the biggest newspaper group in the country trying to get bigger. We have a newspaper group (INM) whose major shareholder  has, shall we say, ‘history’ with his close relationships to Communications Ministers.

We have a Minister with decision-making powers on that merger. We have a PR exec with the closest of ties to Mr O’Brien’s long-term associate Leslie Buckley. That PR exec is working for a firm acting (explicitly) on behalf of INM.

The head of that firm Nigel Heneghan not only has acted as adviser to Leslie Buckley among other roles but is also, significantly, a member of the Compliance Committee of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland-another body that will have a role to play in deciding on the proposed merger.

The connections are obvious. The story tells itself. Apparently it didn’t tell itself to the Minister though because he thought it was grand to tell the PR executive that the merger would be referred on to the BAI.

But that’s strange see, because that morning when Twitter informed me of the story and detailed the date of the Minister’s ‘chat’ with the PR Exec as November 2016, a bell rang in my head.

That bell was a series of PQs myself and a colleague had submitted on behalf of Catherine Murphy TD back in November and December 2016.

It took only a bit of searching to discover that despite the Minister telling Heneghan PR in November 2016 that he would be referring the matter to the BAI, on the floor of the Dáil on December 6 – almost a month later – he was telling us that he had not made any decision and would spend another few weeks undertaking a full process before making that decision.

A decision he now says was never going to be any other way. Seems that the statutory process was a box-ticking exercise at best.

Here’s a thing, maybe he just needs a phone box installed in his Dáil office for super-speedy Ministerial cape transformations when he’s deciding how to answer parliamentarians versus PR execs.

Because, you see, the reason the Minister couldn’t give the Dáil and elected parliamentarians the same information he gave a private PR exec almost a month previously is because he WAS wearing his superhero Ministerial cape.

And the reason that a PR exec acting for INM was telling the Chairman of INM (who in turn was telling Denis O’Brien according to e-mails in the ODCE’s affidavit) that the Minister *would* be referring the matter to the BAI is because, you see, the exec couldn’t see that on the other end of the phone the Minister was apparently NOT wearing his super-hero Ministerial cape and was only a private citizen, imparting sensitive information on a matter that, *if* he had been wearing his cape would, as the ODCE contends, potentially constitute insider information and market manipulation.

But ‘tis grand, cos he wasn’t wearing the cape, see?

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews

From top: Queues at Beechwood Heath estate, Hansfield, Dublin 15 last week; Homeless person sleeping at Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2; Anne Marie McNally

Over the last few days newspapers have led, either above the fold of below the fold depending on your paper of choice, with some variation on the current housing crisis.

Note I said housing crisis and not housing and homelessness crisis.

The sad fact is that homelessness, generally doesn’t connect hugely with many people. The misplaced and (frankly wrong) notion that homelessness only affects a certain ‘type’ is far too common. (The argument of why it still wouldn’t be OK to ignore it even if it was only a certain group is one for another day!)

This week there were ‘record new homelessness figures’ but that phrase has become so oft-repeated in the last few months it has really ceased to have any impact. It’s like nobody expects things to have improved since the last set of ‘record homelessness figures’ and why would they?

There are simply no emergency measures being put in place to both arrest and improve what has been a deteriorating situation for at least six years now.

Don’t get me wrong, there is *lots* of talk. And document launches. And relaunches. And millions and billions promised here there and everywhere but actual working solutions and the associated implementation of same? Nada.

Now to calm the Fine Galers who’ll likely burst a vessel telling me about their solution I’m going to tell you right off the bat that your ‘solution’ is crap.

That solution is the HAP scheme. The HAP scheme is, quite simply, the outsourcing of responsibility for social housing to the private sector. The State abdicating responsibility for a public service to the private sector…because that’s worked so well in the past hasn’t it?

The primary reason that housing hit the headlines this week was because there was a double-figure increase in house prices and scenes reminiscent of the worst times of the Celtic Tiger with people sleeping outside new developments waiting to hand over ever increasing sums to property developers to get onto this wretched thing we refer to as the property ladder.

A ladder that has in the past lured so many to put a tentative foot onto it for fear of being left behind while it gets pulled up. A ladder that for many of those people who managed to get a foot onto it, brought them down, crashing down, rather than up.

It’s not the fault of the people queuing. The societal pressure, the fear, the ‘what-if’ is huge but the repercussions of what we’re allowing to happen, again, are too big and too damaging to ignore, again.

It may be indelicate to mention it to those giddy with a mortgage approval in their pocket and hopes and dreams of a new home in their eye-line but one would be wise to bear in mind that many of the people now living in emergency accommodation, sleeping on families couches or indeed sleeping on the streets, once, not so long ago, slept on the street in an entirely different fashion.

They slept while queuing outside over-priced developments clutching mortgage approvals they could ill-afford or which eventually stretched them to breaking point.

Those sleeping in queues and those sleeping on the streets tonight are both looking longingly at homes they’d like to call their own. It’s worth remembering that the line separating the two situations can be extremely thin.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.

Top pic: Rollingnews