From top: Enda Kenny at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis; Dr Rory Hearne
Economic growth rates of 7%, thousands of new jobs, falling unemployment, traffic jams on the M50, queues at high-end stores on Grafton Street and rising property prices.
All the evidence that Ireland is in strong economic recovery?
Not so fast.
Dr Rory Hearne writes:
All those years of austerity (cuts to public services and new taxes) and wage cuts worked, right?
Yes, austerity ‘worked’ and we are in ‘recovery’ – but only if you ignore the sacrificing of a generation that has paid (and will continue to pay for many decades) the price of ‘recovery’ – particularly the tens of thousands of children pushed into poverty and deprivation and the almost quarter of a million forced to emigrate. It is only a ‘recovery’ if you ignore the multiple crises that are going on now from housing to the health service.
And only if you ignore the very shaky foundation of our economic growth with half of it based on dodgy profit shifting by multinationals.
What I’m saying here – unpopular and all as it may be – or as much as you may not want to hear it – is that there is a dark truth to our so-called ‘recovery’.
Much of the commentary about the recovery is hype and spin, which at times descends into plain lies and ignorance. Ireland is no ‘success’ story for austerity or economic growth.
What we are is a country that sacrificed the welfare of its younger generations in order to pay for a crash caused by neoliberal (free market) economic policies, corrupt and crony politics and the decisions of the generation in power and the wealthy to prioritise protecting themselves
If you don’t believe me – just look at the facts. Take children for example. The number of children aged 0-6 (the most vulnerable age) suffering from deprivation in Ireland doubled from 55,000 in 2007 to 105,000 children suffering deprivation in 2014. Ireland now has the third highest deprivation rate for children aged 0-6 in the EU15 – at 25%. This is over 8 times Norway’s level.
Levels of Deprivation for Children Age 0-6 in EU15, 2014
While one of the most shameful scandals affecting this country is the rise in number of homeless families with children. The numbers below show that by September last year there were almost 1,500 children living in emergency homeless accommodation.
Rise in numbers of homeless children nationally
Then there is that issue no one in the corridors of power wants to talk about – emigration. Despite the ‘recovery’ 35,000 young Irish people emigrated from Ireland last year. Just under a quarter of a million – 250,000 left between 2010 and 2015. If they had stayed then our unemployment rate would be double what it is now.
Our ‘recovery’ wouldn’t look as rosy with 16% unemployment – would it? The graph below shows that the emigrants are all in the under 40s generations.
They left and continue to leave not just because of the lack of jobs but because the lack of quality jobs and quality of life in Ireland. Because as, Blindboy put it, we can’t afford houses or children.
Our disadvantaged communities also paid a heavy price as community development organisations had their funding slashed and housing regeneration projects were abandoned.
I saw first-hand as a community worker the impacts of harsh austerity in a Dublin inner city social housing estate of Dolphin House where residents were left living in horrendous conditions with mould, damp and sewage in their flats.
Of course all of this was not accidental, or unfortunate ‘collateral damage’.
It resulted from a political decision by those in power to prioritise the already privileged and powerful over the younger generations. So they ensured the German and French banks and the billionaire bondholders were repaid while community and child services were cut, a recruitment embargo was put on the public sector thus cutting out a major area of employment for young people and graduates.
And for anyone who did get a job they cut the pay of new entrants.
Public spending was cut in social housing, public transport, flood defences, hospitals, schools– leaving us with a housing crisis and one of the lowest stocks of public infrastructure in Europe that will take decades to make up for.
New charges were introduced into water, property, health care (a visit to A & E is now a €100 charge if you don’t have a medical care or private health insurance. I found this out when I had to pay it when I brought my six month old baby to hospital recently). While Bus Fares have also risen.
In addressing the housing crash they created NAMA which took the developer’s toxic loans off the banks (to allow them return to profit), gave the developers and big business write-down’s on their debt and are selling that housing and land to international property speculators and vulture funds. There was no debt-write down for us ordinary joes.
Some of us were left with our massive mortgages (many of whom went into arrears –with over 30,000 facing repossession of their home) while others face rising rents and no possibility of ever owning a home.
Those in power knew the impact their policies would have. They showed who they are prepared to stand up and be courageous for. While they thumped the table at European meetings to defend multinational corporations paying a 12% (and lower) tax rate they were silent about the doubling of the numbers of children in poverty.
They would rather allow children be made homeless than to disturb the privileged and powerful by introducing a wealth tax on Ireland’s richest who grew their wealth by €34bn since 2010. The top 20% of households now have 70% of the wealth in Ireland.
I am one of the generation under the age of 40 who is straddled with a massive mortgage, paying huge childcare costs, and experiencing precarious work for years due to the public sector embargo and cuts.
My friends and family have emigrated because they can’t get a decent job. I know families struggling to get by each week, children sleeping with their parents in cars because their parents can’t afford the rent. Is this the Ireland we want?
Is this the Republic we are proud to commemorate in 2016? Ireland is no austerity success story. The recovery has been built on sacrificing younger generations.
It’s time to tell the truth about the Phoney Celtic Phoenix.
Dr Rory Hearne is a Senior Policy Analyst with TASC, the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change. He is also an independent candidate for the Seanad NUI Colleges Panel. His column appears here every Wednesday. He writes here in a personal capacity. Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryhearne