Big Lies Told Often Enough

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Julien Mercille hi res

From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with disability campaigners last week; Tanaiste Joan Burton and former Labour minister Ruairi Quinn; Dr Julien Mercille

Cold coffee for disability activists and foodbanks for all.

When delusion becomes policy.

Dr Julien Mercille writes:

School has only just started, so let’s begin this column with three exam questions:

Question 1: How many hours has Joan Burton been held up in her car in Jobstown last November?

Answer: By now, the whole nation knows that it’s two hours, thanks to endless media repetition.

In contrast, I would expect few people to know the answers to the next two questions, given the lack of coverage of the issues.

Question 2: How many people suffer from food poverty in the country?

Answer: 10% in 2010, or 450,000—it is virtually certain that it has increased significantly since then (I haven’t seen a more recent figure).

Question 3: By what amount have services to people with disabilities been cut under austerity?

Answer: 10%, or €160 million.

Last week, two events made me wonder if Labour and Fine Gael leaders know the answers to Questions 2 and 3. There seems to be a good amount of delusion within government ranks, as officials close their eyes on the mess they have created.

First, Joan Burton opened a central food bank to meet “growing demand for food assistance” because the years of recession and austerity are still affecting the country.

The food bank is operated by Crosscare, which is the social support agency of the Catholic Church in Dublin. It expects to provide 750 tonnes of food within the next three months to 70 charities and community food banks in and around the city.

Joan Burton said she was “very pleased” to support this strategy, which she thinks is a “great form of community effort”. In other words, she thinks it’s great that so many people in the country are now compelled to get their food from the Church because they can’t afford it.

The trade unions Unite and Mandate recently produced a report on food poverty in Ireland. (Food poverty is defined as missing a meal in the last two weeks due to lack of money; or being unable to afford a meal with meat or vegetarian equivalent every other day; or being unable to afford a roast or vegetarian equivalent once a week).

The 10% facing food poverty don’t even include the homeless, asylum seekers and Travellers, groups that tend to be more vulnerable to it. The report says that food poverty today is not a result of crop failure or weather-related problems—it’s a result of a policy of austerity.

Second, disability activists stood outside Government Buildings for 72 hours, including cold nights. They wanted to highlight the cuts to disability services. There are 600,000 people with disabilities in Ireland.

They talked to Enda Kenny and said they were disappointed that nothing came out of the meeting. Actually, the main outcome was a session of photos that Kenny might use to show he is listening to the country. He also gave a coffee to one of the protesters, as if this was supposed to show compassion.

The Irish media reported briefly on this. But imagine if the situation had happened in an “enemy state”. Say disability activists were camping outside government buildings in Russia and Vladimir Putin gave one of them a coffee to attempt to look good in front of the cameras. I bet the Western media would be there denouncing the “heartless tyrant” who “lets his own people rot in the streets” while refusing to tax a little bit more Russian oligarchs to provide adequate services for the disabled.

The level of delusion seems to be particularly high within the Labour Party. In the Sunday Business Post, Pat Leahy conducted an insightful interview with Joan Burton.

She stated that when they go to the polls, Irish people will give credit to Labour for—wait for it—“protecting welfare, mitigating austerity, promoting job creation, effecting social change”. Wow.

This reminds me of the “Big Lie” technique in propaganda, in which a politician tells a lie so big that people believe it because no one would think that someone would be impudent enough to distort the truth to such an extent.

Meanwhile, it was reported that an “emotional” Ruairí Quinn, speaking at Labour’s think-in last week, boasted that because Labour didn’t “believe in capitalism, we know how to fucking manage it”.

This appears to be another Big Lie, of the emotional variety perhaps. Hasn’t Labour gone out of its way to demonstrate to the troika and the world how much it believes in savage capitalism and how good it is at implementing it?

In any case, opinion polls indicate that the party will be close to wiped out in the forthcoming elections. Hopefully, that will wake up a few.

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at UCD. His book Deepening Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Crisis: Europe’s Treasure Ireland is out now. Twitter: @JulienMercille

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80 thoughts on “Big Lies Told Often Enough

  1. medieval knievel

    “Joan Burton said she was “very pleased” to support this strategy, which she thinks is a “great form of community effort”. In other words, she thinks it’s great that so many people in the country are now compelled to get their food from the Church because they can’t afford it.”

    what age is this guy? regardless of the merits (or lack thereof), of this scheme, suggesting that supporting a remedial action means you like the issue it’s trying to resolve is just puerile.

    1. ahjayzis

      Think you missed the point.

      She’s Minister for Social Protection – the fact that people will starve in this country if charities don’t give them food means she has failed spectacularly to, you know, socially protect people.

      Of ALL ministers, the minister responsible for ensuring our society has a floor beneath which no one should fall opening a food bank is galling.

      1. Clampers Outside!

        +450,000 (and more since then) are not able to put sufficient food on the table !

        She’s failed spectacularly in her job and is swimming in its’ scrapings for photo-ops.

        Joan’s a deluded out of touch muppet, nothing more.

      2. Spaghetti Hoop

        +1
        You’ve brought up this point before and I’m glad to see it here again. The relationship between government social responsibility and the charity sector needs to be looked at. It is a fobbing off of the worst kind. At least in the 80s, during a period of escalating poverty the government of the day brought in intervention foodstuffs from Europe.

    1. ahjayzis

      No – how dare the Minister for SOCIAL PROTECTION celebrate the fact that under her stewardship, the poor in Ireland now need charities to feed them.

  2. fluffybiscuits

    Why do people deride Julien everytime he comes on? The man deals with facts and figures and is a lot more grounded in reality than a lot of other BSers (Jonotti take note). 10% food poverty is a very serious figure to to take from this. Systemic failures abound, the state is failing in its objectives towards people they are meant to care for and passing the buck to the church again (just like education).

    1. Anomanomanom

      If you go by what they class as food poverty, using their examples, then iv been living in food poverty for 30 years and I’m certainly not poor.

    2. Drebbin

      Because he doesn’t seem to know what “mitigating” means? Because he talks about politics like an excited fifth year trying to denounce as many people as he can before his voice cracks? Or maybe because he ignores the single biggest factor in everything he is talking about: our economy is not run from Ireland.

  3. Putin

    ” But imagine if the situation had happened in an “enemy state”. Say disability activists were camping outside government buildings in Russia and Vladimir Putin gave one of them a coffee to attempt to look good in front of the cameras. I bet the Western media would be there denouncing the “heartless tyrant” who “lets his own people rot in the streets” while refusing to tax a little bit more Russian oligarchs to provide adequate services for the disabled”

    Am having a goldfish moment as my mouth opens, then closes at such an absurd analogy. Sweet Lord Divine, how can anyone take this guy seriously.

  4. Benz

    Anyone know how many families that suffer from food poverty have a parent that smokes? Or perhaps both?

    I lived in the heart of Ballymun for 5 years and there’s thousands of folk living there with flat screen tvs, 40 john player blue in their pockets and play the lotto. Those same folk, were you to ask them, would tell you that they hadn’t a euro to spare and their kids suffered terribly from the effects of poverty.

    We have plenty of problems in this country but it’s naive in the extreme to suggest that there are people who claim to suffer food poverty because the government are too busy looking after the rich.

    Julian is a fantasist and a scaremonger.

    1. FortyCoats

      @Benz

      1. How did it come about that you were living in Ballymun for 5 years?
      2. How did it come about that you are no longer living on Ballymun?

        1. Benz

          I bought an apartment there. In 2004 it was an “up an coming” area. And I bought into that promise. I shouldn’t have.

          In 2008 I met my now wife. My perspective changed then; I couldn’t expose the missus to that area. It’s unbelievable. My car was broken into, repeatedly damaged. Cars were regularly burnt out just for fun. Junkies shaping up at you while you’re waiting for the bus in the morning. I lost count of the amount of times the locals (and it wasn’t just kids) tried to break the windows in my apartment. A car was burnt out in the underground car park and it burnt through the sewage pipes and the electrics. It was the worst experience of my life.

          There was no way she was ever going to live there so we moved. If you live in Ballymun and you’re not from Ballymun then you can’t walk around safely after dark. That’s a hell of a restriction.

          There are so many stories I could tell you about my time there. It’s like a bad dream.

    2. Demon

      “Flat screen TVs”? Is there another kind? People smoke because it suppresses appetite, as well as smothering their stress. Stupid, yes, but that’s why they do it. And the Lotto is a glittering hope held up before the desperate, the heavenly gate that will lead them out of their troubles.

      In my youth it was “colour televisions” the poor were accused of unreasonably owning. I remember an outraged letter in The Irish Times comparing the cost of fees in Belvedere with the cost of owning or renting a colour television. Obviously the people of Ballymun were simply irresponsible; the Jesuits would certainly have accepted their children if they had been responsible enough to save the fees, instead of smoking and watching Coronation Street and other devilish productions.

      1. Owen C

        “People smoke because it suppresses appetite, as well as smothering their stress”

        Really, this the medical/psychological reason people are smoking? Any evidence to back that up?

          1. Rob_G

            I doubt that many people are smoking cigarettes to suppress their appetites; sometimes people just make poor life choices.

          2. Benz

            If your family is suffering from ‘food poverty’ then you shouldn’t smoke. It’s not a difficult realisation to come to.

          3. Rob_G

            People with enough money to spend €10 per pack on cigarettes have enough money for food, they are just choosing not to spend it that way.

          4. Owen C

            I know nicotine curbs appetite. That doesn’t prove that that’s the reason the people in question here are smoking. They could be smoking because they have simply made an unhealthy lifestyle choice.

  5. fluffybiscuits

    I’ll expand further

    The definition of poverty from the National Anti Poverty Strategy is

    “People are living in poverty if their income
    and resources (material, cultural and
    social) are so inadequate as to preclude
    them from having a standard of living which
    is regarded as acceptable by Irish society
    generally. As a result of inadequate income
    and resources people may be excluded
    and marginalised from participating in
    activities which are considered the norm
    for other people in society”

    The Social inclusion policy stated:

    http://www.socialinclusion.ie/documents/NAPinclusionReportPDF.pdf

    “To reduce the number of those
    experiencing consistent poverty to
    between 2% and 4% by 2012, with the aim
    of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016,
    under the revised definition. ”

    A huge failure

    Again attacked Julien Mercille is juvenile, look at the statistics…..

  6. Owen C

    “Answer: 10% in 2010, or 450,000—it is virtually certain that it has increased significantly since then (I haven’t seen a more recent figure).”

    How is this “virtually certain”? Since 2010 unemployment has decreased from ~14.8% to 9.5%, the number of employed has increased by 70k, and the economy has consistently grown in both GNP and GDP terms in the interim. While food poverty may have increased despite this positive backdrop, to casually suggest it is “virtually certain”, without any evidence to back this claim up, is willfully lazy and biased with the opinion.

    “Say disability activists were camping outside government buildings in Russia and Vladimir Putin gave one of them a coffee to attempt to look good in front of the cameras. I bet the Western media would be there denouncing the “heartless tyrant” who “lets his own people rot in the streets” while refusing to tax a little bit more Russian oligarchs to provide adequate services for the disabled.”

    My God this is boll*x dressed up as analysis. If Putin did something like this the Western media would probably suggest he was showing a softer side to his nature as usually he just eradicates, politically, judicially or literally, people he doesn’t like. Tax policy is the least of Putin’s issues.

  7. Donal

    Its the sheer arrogance of this guy. Yes Julien, you are right – no politician knows anything about the poverty situation in this country. We are so lucky to have you to point this out.

    Previous to the Mercille enlightenment nobody in ireland had a clue about poverty or cuts to disability support. Thank you dear Julien for showing us the light. We all thought that the last 7 years were all fucking sweetness and light!!!

    And the line about Burton thinking its great that people cant afford food – seriously that is pathetic.

    Broadsheet there are loads of hard left, anti government, anti austerity writers out there that can actually put a solid argument together – try one of them and ditch this joke.

    1. rory

      I agree with Donal. Sorry Mr. Merceille.

      Regarding other left wing writers, who would be an appropriate replacement?

  8. ahyeah

    When delusion becomes academic
    Dr Julien Mercille writes:
    School has only just started, so let’s begin by me not playing truant…

  9. Dubloony

    I would love to see some in depth analysis of those living in food poverty. I’ve no doubt that there are huge amounts of people in significant trouble in this country but I would like to know more that they headlines above.
    Do they live in areas with poor infrastructure / food desert situation? transport / food choice problem.
    Are they receiving all benefits they are supposed to? some people don’t live asking for help eve though they are entitled to it.
    Do they know how to cook? Serious question – some people really don’t know how to create basic meals with cheap veg.
    Physical/mental/addiction problems – people need extra help that should be available.

    Its it possible to have a healthy, if a bit boring basic diet on welfare. (have done it – porridge – soups – shepheards pie – pasta – fresh fruit)
    How many people live in a house with a garden who don’t grow some food?
    All over Europe, its considered normal to have a fruit tree, root vegetables, greens & herbs from your own garden. A lawn is considered an unnecessary waste. There’s a lot more we can do to reduce our dependencies on cash, welfare and corporate food providers.

    1. Demon

      I grow some vegetables in my garden. But they don’t provide as much food as you might imagine. Dublin gardens aren’t huge.
      For example, you’ll get about four to eight broad beans per plant http://www.harvesttotable.com/2009/03/how_to_grow_broad_beans/
      If you grow kale (I do) and broccoli (I do), you can get perhaps one or two servings per week from your plants, unless you have a big lot of the garden under kale. Potatoes – maybe five meals. An apple tree – enough to make four or five jars of apple jelly. It’s not really a solution.

      1. Dubloony

        I’ve 2 plots 8×3 that provided salad veg for 5 months for 1 person. It won’t replace all food but it does replace some.
        Broccoli was grown once but as it took up too much space, so that’s out.

        Garden size obviously vary but many areas built in the 1930s in particular (Crumlin/Drimagh) have large gardens.
        Even a few herbs would make a difference to otherwise bland food. They are way over priced in shops.

    2. Spaghetti Hoop

      The cooking and food-buying ignorance is a real problem. A person on welfare, whether they buy the groceries or not, should be able to tell you how much per person their dinner cost. Sadly they don’t. I was shopping yesterday and here is what I found;

      1kg new potatoes plus pack of 2 carrots, one parsnip, one onion = €1
      500g dried pulses = €1
      1kg of beef mince = €4

      That would easily feed a family of 4.
      Growing your own would help even more.
      I always admire the British for their food initiatives during and after the two world wars.
      Our schools could really get on board with this, as good our ‘Minister for Social Protection’.

      1. meadowlark

        Have to agree with you Hoop. Myself and my partner are in a situation where he is working and I am not. We have had to be very clever and creative with our food to make it stretch, along with plenty of others. I wish I had been taught basic nutrition and a few simple recipes when I was younger. I had to learn the hard way through trial and error. If you are clever you can make nutritious meals and have leftovers for lunches, or make what food you have stretch.

        1. ethereal_myst

          i agree too to some extent, a lack of food education is part of the problem. I earn just above the average wage but due to rising costs have less to spend on shopping but have managed to work out a budget of about 150 a month that will give me a good dinner every day.

          1. pardon

            Ireland is on course to become the most obese country in Europe, according to the latest figures from World Health Organisation (WHO) experts.

          2. meadowlark

            That frightens the poo out of me. Really. I try to let my daughter help me with dinner whenever I can, so she can see how its done, taste anything she wants, and understands how to make a nutritious meal. I can’t understand why there isn’t more of an emphasis on this in schools from primary upwards.

      2. Demon

        They’re going to have potatoes and mince for breakfast, Spag? And no milk? No eggs? No greens? Think it through!

        1. ReproBertie

          Yes, Spaghetti Hoop’s example of a dinner for 4 for less than the price of a pack of smokes was intended to cover the entire spending for a family of 4 for a week. Think it through!

        2. ethereal_myst

          Thinking it through, they can have porridge for breakfast with toasted homemade soda bread…..dinners do not have to be only mince, half a cooked chicken and some veg can make a nice pie to feed 6

          Still all that being said not everyone can do it or knows how, so a lot more than opening food banks needs to be done by our Gov

        3. Spaghetti Hoop

          It was an EXAMPLE, Demon.
          Breaks my heart to see the trolleys full of frozen chips and nuggets or the kids in the queue for chipper – every day.

          Food has never been so expensive as it is now – but with food-education, frugality and creativity, people watching their budgets can feed themselves well and healthily. This would apply to all and any of us, not just the long-term poor, pensioners and students. Who knows when one could find themselves on social welfare, widowed, with a clatter o’ kids etc.? I would love to see a pan-departmental initiative to tackle this and would hope that people’s pride and hang-ups about admitting both lack of knowledge and hunger would not get in the way.

  10. JM parrot

    Oh my GAWD , am so loving this spoof and spook “journalism” on a Monday. Thanks BS. You make me really, really giddy. Habit though is a bit of deadener ,so suggest you liven things up a bit. Perhaps a speedo clad photo ? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this. Kind regards, JM.

  11. Peter Dempsey

    Benz paints a realistic and accurate story of life in Ballymun. His experience is not unique. Yet it’s ignored by everybody as it doesn’t suit their “underclass = good, middle class = bad” viewpoint.

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