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