Anne Marie McNally: Lest Ye Be Judged

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From top: Margaret Cash and her children (from left) Johnny, Miley, Jim, Rocky, Andy and Tommy; Anne Marie McNally

I’ve been trying to stay offline as much as possible over August. Mostly off twitter to be honest because politics is one of those jobs that it’s hard to actually take a break from.

News doesn’t stop and for those of us who generally love the cut and thrust of the job; it’s difficult to switch off entirely – it only takes one tweet or a news headline to suck you back into feeling like you ‘should’ get involved.

I was reading a piece the other day about Swedish work practises and how employers insist on you taking three consecutive weeks during the summer in order to maintain a healthy work/life balance. It makes sense.

This year more than others I’ve really tried to keep these few August weeks sacrosanct. It’s been a tough year with plenty of stress and the usual round of 10-12 hour working days being the norm and so the break is not only advised, it’s required.

However, with all the best intentions in the world, it’s been difficult for me to ignore some of the major issues arising not least the Summerhill occupation and the case of the homeless family in Tallaght Garda station.

For my mental well being I’ve tried to stay away, as much as possible, from the sick blame game that has played out across social media – and in some cases mainstream media – but it has become harder and harder to ignore. I’ve seen people I respect say silly things and make judgements that are ill-advised.

In a conversation with trusted friends the other night we spoke about the judgements that every single one of us make on a daily basis. It is normal and it is human nature.

What is dangerous however is to rush to those judgements and not question the basis or the legitimacy of those judgements.

Many online went went with the bigoted ‘ah…traveller’ narrative yet how many of you in the past have openly questioned why women allow themselves and their children to be subjected to some of the mysogonistic and abusive elements unfortunately prevalent in much of traveller culture.

Did it cross your mind that maybe this woman had made the difficult decision to escape from that?

She had been living settled in private rented accommodation prior to it being repossessed and her made homeless so clearly she was trying to live a settled life. Either way, did you question the basis of your ‘ah…traveller’ judgement?

Then came the ‘breeding responsibility’ types. To those I’d point out,he sorry state of sex education in this country.

However, even ignoring whether or not the woman wilfully chose or not to have her children, it’s worth remembering that it’ pretty much only our parents and in some cases grandparents generations who were mostly brought up in one or two bed flats of corporation houses, oftentimes in families of multiple children – up to 20 in some cases I’m personally familiar with, was it ideal? Of course not, did most of those people go onto become productive members of society? Absolutely.

I’m not naïve, nor am I a saint. I make and made judgements but I challenge myself on those judgements and I challenge others on theirs.

This woman’s unfortunate case is just the example for this piece but the concept is broader. It’s always so easy to look in at a situation from the outside and view it through the prism of your own privilege or lack thereof, but it’s always worth reminding yourself that things are never as straightforward as they seem.

And while some of the judgements we all make on a daily basis about others may be valid; are they really necessary? I think the woman at the centre of this case summed things up pretty well when she said “all these people are saying I should be ashamed of myself, but I already am ashamed.”

Who does it benefit for you to pour your scorn into a tweet or a comment section? Yourself? Really?

Does spewing hateful stuff about a stranger make you feel better? If it does you need to look long and hard at yourself.

Does it help the woman or her children? No, it further adds to an alienation from society that is already well underway.

And unless we arrest that alienation and turn judgement into positive action, those children today will be adults of the future about which another headline is almost inevitable. We cannot continue to demonise children and expect angels to emerge into adulthood.

Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Wednesday. Follow Anne Marie on twitter: @amomcnally

Pic: Colin O’Riordan/ Inner City Helping Homeless

85 thoughts on “Anne Marie McNally: Lest Ye Be Judged

  1. Cú Chulainn

    Well, you are quite right that before we rush to judgement we should aquatint ourselves of as much as the facts as possible. In this case that was impossible as not one journalist (that I read or heard) asked some of the pertinent questions which I don’t need to set out as they are so self evident in this case and they need to be addressed or else it’s hard not to see this event as stage managed and, frankly, gaming the system.

    1. Cian

      ah go on. Tell us what you see as the ‘self evident’ questions.
      Just because you think something is self evident doesn’t mean everyone does – we all have different through processes and biases.

    2. scottser

      the only opinion on this woman’s homelessness that counts is south dublin county council’s. she was assessed and deemed homeless under the housing act 1988. the hows, whys and wherefores that may be important to you, and you may have problems with the assessment, but sdcc qualified this family as homeless under the law.

      furthermore, sdcc had a case a couple of years back where a woman handed back her council tenancy, went to the uk but didn’t like it and came back again and declared homeless, and was reasonably refused by sdcc. the courts decided that her homelessness now was more important than how and where she became homeless. if margaret cash is on the housing list and deemed homeless then she is not ‘gaming the system’, she is simply entitled to the protection of the housing act.
      suck it up.

      1. Cian

        My understanding of “Gaming the System” is (pasted from Google) ‘using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system in order, instead, to manipulate the system for a desired outcome’.

        SDCC have a list of people waiting for a home. This is ordered in a particular way with the ‘most needy’ at the top. If you do anything that pushes you up that list – explicitly so that you go up the list – then you are gaming the system. Some examples (not saying that these are valid in this case)

        If having more children gives higher priority on the list – then have another baby.
        If being single parent improves your chances – then kick the hubby out.
        If being homeless gets your feet under the table – then endeavour to be come homeless.
        If getting onto the front page of the paper, and onto Joe Duffy – then organise a photo-op.

        Again, I’m not saying that this particular woman has done all of these things – but if she has done any then she is gaming the system. And in doing so is skipping the housing queue in front of a more needy family.

        1. scottser

          i can assure you that ‘the most needy’ are not at the top. sdcc operate a choice based lettings system so the ‘most needy’ have their interest declared in every property that becomes available. those on the list the longest are those who will only accept housing is specific areas or schemes.
          having large amounts of children does not make it easier to get housed. this family will require a 4 bed property and few enough of those come back into stock, so her wait may be longer.
          as for definitions of ‘gaming the system’, how far do you want to push it? is having a drug or alcohol problem gaming the system? coming off your medication? getting slapped around by an abusive partner? how far are you willing to go to accuse someone of that? because in my own experience of conducting homeless assessments you’d want to be damn sure of yourself before you deny anyone the protection of the law.

          1. Cian

            Thanks for this insight.

            One question – If a house becomes available how does SDCC decide on what order that people get it? [I’m assuming that effectively there are separate lists for each house type/size] but if there are 100 families looking for a 3-bed accommodation – who gets first dibs?

            As for gaming the system – I do know that when I was in my teens that some of my female peers saw their future as getting pregnant as soon as possible to get onto the housing list, and openly discussing the fact that they would need to have a second to ensure they would get a house. These girls were gaming the system.

          2. Cian

            okay, that says “the housing department will then offer the home to the applicant who is the highest on the housing list of those who have expressed an interest subject to Estate Management check, etc.”

            then it also says “the applicant longest on the Housing List of those who expresses interest will be offered the property” (with the proviso that if you reject 2 offers within 12 months you’re suspended for 12 months).

            …and then there is a priority list.
            Band 1: All priority cases (Medical, Welfare, Homeless, Traveller)
            Band 2: All overcrowded cases and those with previously awarded medical or welfare points
            Band 3: All remaining qualified households

            So number of children doesn’t affect the order – although it may move you into a different house-size category – with a shorter( or longer) list.

            But being homeless could move you from band 3 to band 1;

          3. scottser

            i imagine that sdcc would be sensible about their allocations policy. not all housing will go to band 1, that some will be allocated to each band accordingly. i’ve known applicants to be on priority lists for a number of years depending on their housing need, albeit under different systems in different councils.

  2. ollie

    Get married at 17. straight on to the housing list. Have 7 kids, father of kids in jail on assualt charges, not his first conviction by any means.
    No judgement, facts

    What ever happened to caring for yourself?

    1. Dr.Fart MD

      so ollie, you’re saying they deserve to be left to sleep in a garda station and don’t deserve a house, because she had kids when she was young and the father isn’t around?

      there’s nothing more judgemental than saying a family don’t deserve a home because they haven’t lived the kind of lives you approve of.

      1. ollie

        So Dr.Fart MD
        does everyone in Ireland “deserve a house”? Or would you restrict this to any p[articualr group?
        how do you plan to fund this?

        1. Dr.Fart MD

          well i wouldn’t keep someone from having a roof over their heads because they had kids when they were young and the father left.

          1. Dr.Fart MD

            also, that classic argument of “and what would you do?” is the dumbest retort in the history of debate. I’m a doctor, I studied medicine for 7 years, I have no experience in being a minister or working for the council .. but the people who do, need to find solutions. If i was as bad at my job I would be struck off. They’ve never been good at their jobs and not only do they keep their jobs, they get backed up by people like you who stupidly ask those questioning them “well what would you do?” .. IT’S NOT MY JOB, IT’S THEIRS!

          2. Cian

            If you don’t have sufficient knowledge of the topic then perhaps you aren’t well placed to comment on it.

            Have you never made any mistake in your professional career?
            Have you cured every single patient?

    2. scottser

      none of which precludes anyone for applying for social housing or having their housing need assessed.

    3. Ask Why

      She posted on her facebook page that she got a house on 17 July. What happened to that house? She has closed her facebook page to the public since all her publicity, but enough people have seen it and there are copies of it. Why hasn’t anyone checked into that?

  3. Wellness

    “I’ve been trying to stay offline as much as possible over August. Mostly off twitter to be honest because politics is one of those jobs that it’s hard to actually take a break from.”

    I stopped reading after the first line. If twitter drives SD policy, then it no surprise that you lot are not making any dent on the political landscape. Twitter is a niche pursuit and politics on twitter is even more niche.
    Congrats though on ticking the box and preaching to the converted. Why not use this post to discuss SD Housing Policy rather than some opportunistic facebook post ?

    1. Andrew

      + ! on the Twitter observation. Why is it given so much credence? When it is a tiny,tiny amount of people commenting on these topics on twitter. It really should not be used as a barometer for anything especially political or social discussions.

    2. Spaghetti Hoop

      My thoughts too. Politics doesn’t slope off for August, because people and issues certainly don’t.

      1. rotide

        Everyone deserves a holiday though. There shouldn’t really be any problem with Ammo turning off to recharge.

        I’m with Andrew on the twitter thing though

  4. papa p

    “We cannot continue to demonise children and expect angels to emerge into adulthood.”

    Most of the demonization I read in comments was about the mother. Not the children.

  5. Anne

    Most people are fed up of working hard, trying to make ends meet and do their best only to be confronted with those who do exactly as they please with no regard for anyone except themselves. It is hard to stomach. I would love to have a big family but I can’t afford to so I don’t. Personal responsibility. And saying that the state of sex education is the reason why she had so many children is ridiculous.

    Are you honestly saying that the public health nurse who visited this woman post pregnancy (every pregnancy!!) did not speak to her about contraception? This conversation seems to be mandatory given the many awkward conversations my friends have had about this after each birth.

    Comparing this to how Ireland had large families in the past who went on to be productive is also assinine. There was no contraception in those days given the grip the Catholic Church had on society. Of course people had big families and were productive – parents had no choice but to have kids and they and their children had no choice but to work hard to make ends meet. This is a world away from society now where the vast majority of people have the number of children they can afford and work and pay taxes and a segment of society do as they please safe in the knowledge that they will be looked after by the state. If we all did this society would collapse. Are you seriously proposing we should all just throw in the towel on work, have as many kids as we please and sit back and let the government deal with it – using what tax revenue?? Can you honestly not see why people would be upset about this when they do their best and see others not even trying?

    A pathetic article.

    1. Nigel

      And this is why we have a social safety net and not charity that is subjected to public whim, sentiment or resentment. I’m not even saying you’re wrong to be angry about this, but that anger can’t be directed at one family in one spotlighted situation and used to deprive them of support.

      1. Owen C

        She’s not using a social safety net though. She’s using a social welfare facilitator. She has picked certain life decisions based on the availability of a social welfare system that will explicitly support those decisions. She didn’t have a job which supported 7 kids and then suddenly lost it. She would never have reasonably expected to have an income other than social welfare that could support 7 kids. Thats the issue here. Its not about demonisation, its about asking whether the system should have certain restrictions or conditions in place to prevent people deciding from a very early stage that they will become completely and expensively dependent on that system.

        1. Nigel

          Owen you’re a reasonable person and I would not expect you to demonise anyone. If you’re correct about this woman, then there was a huge failure of education and economic opportunity that would lead a young girl to believe that her only option for a safe and stable future was through having babies. People at that age make bad choices all the time, and honestly, this seems like one of the sadder sorts of choices, one that should provoke pity rather than anger. If there were ways of structuring welfare to discourage this sort of choice that wouldn’t make hardship for people who find themselves in circumstances through bad luck, that would certainly be worth exploring. I doubt this kind of backlash will do much good, though, and probably only lead to harm.

        2. scottser

          it wasn’t that long ago that having a large family was considered a positive, healthy and culturally advantageous thing. i believe among travellers still it is considered to be desirable. fortunately for everyone, there is not and should not be a restriction on how many children parents can have. this isn’t china.

          1. Cian

            “fortunately for everyone, there is not and should not be a restriction on how many children parents can have.”
            haha ha haa

            Back in the real world, where people work for a living, there are restrictions on how many children we can have. Children are expensive, and for most people this is a limiting factor.

            Childcare is expensive. Giving up your job is expensive. If I am living a frugal life with no luxuries – all my income goes on the essentials – rent, travel and food. I simply can’t have a child.

          2. scottser

            sorry cian, i’m laughing my hole off at you right now. you don’t have kids do you?
            having kids means you can’t do pretty much anything anymore – buy clothes, get out to the movies, have mates around. no matter how much you earn, your kids will pretty much suck you dry..
            little vampires!

          3. Cian

            @scottser

            Could you afford another, say, 4 kids? Say one every 18 months for the next 6 years? and still afford rent/food/transport/bills/medicine/etc?

          4. scottser

            the thought of another 4 genuinely makes me shudder.. in strictly financial terms we could probably manage it, i guess when people have kids you just have to cut your cloth to suit your measure.
            let’s just agree that you’ll never get rich by having kids..

          5. Owen C

            You can have as many children as you want. Its the expecting everyone else to pay for this choice that creates the issue.

            Clearly if every woman decided at 17 years of age that they wanted to have 7 kids and needed social welfare to support this decision (for the rest of their lives), the entire social welfare system would collapse in on itself. And clearly most women don’t decide to go down this route as they consciously or unconsciously understand this to be the case. For every parent, the idea of having “one more” always sounds great, but then you have to do some hard maths and make some hard decisions on what it would mean financially and practically (as a parent, I am faced with this question right now).

            So its entirely reasonable to suggest we should have a debate about what restrictions should be in place for social welfare access. Its not demonizing, its not lacking in empathy, its not being mean spirited and miserly. Its discussing the reality of decisions having consequences and owning those consequences rather than just relying on state assistance to support them.

    2. Daisy Chainsaw

      On the one hand we have people complaining that the population is decreasing because selfish women won’t (get married and) have children earlier on in their lives on the other hand this woman is selfish because she chose to have 7 children… must be the wrong sort of children, eh? Maybe if the 8th amendment didn’t exist, she’d have only 2 and she’d still be called selfish for having an abortion.

      Women still can’t do right for doing wrong.

      1. Owen C

        Sorry, who exactly is complaining the population is decreasing because of selfish women? If nothing else, the population isnt decreasing and is expected to continue growing for another few decades/

      2. rotide

        Did you just make up that bit about people moaning about how the population is decreasing to shoehorn in another 8th point?

        it certainly seems like that

        1. Starina

          Look at any article about “career women”.

          the wimmin are having children later these days, and less of them, because they’re selfishly choosing to have careers.

          Not like these selfish hoors who have 7 children and started as teenagers.

          When will we ever get it right, eh?

          1. rotide

            I’ve seen plenty of talk of women having children later and people (families) choosing to have less children alright. They’re just facts though.

            it says more about you and daisy that you choose to be victimised by these facts than any particular article stating them

    3. Pat-the-barker

      I want to live in a caring society which carries the weak and vulnerable, but when people abuse this we have a right to call them out without being ridiculed

      1. scottser

        and what about the tax cheats, the overpaid, the bondholders, vultures etc?
        here’s a thing, if apple and the like paid their few quid in tax your ‘caring society’ would extend to everyone on the basis of need, not who you think deserves it more on the basis of scarce resources.

      2. Daisy Chainsaw

        How much more vulnerable is a homeless woman with 7 young children meant to be? Is she the wrong type of woman? Are they the wrong type of children?

    4. Starina

      “Are you honestly saying that the public health nurse who visited this woman post pregnancy (every pregnancy!!) did not speak to her about contraception?”

      The woman conceived her last two children while on the coil. Her contraception failed her. She’s on a waiting list to get her tubes tied. Abortion is not yet available here. Not that it’s any of your nosey business.

  6. Anne

    Also have you any comment to make on how while unemployment is falling rapidly the corresponding fall in the social welfare bill is minuscule? A very clear and strong indication that this is not people who have fallen on hard times and are trying their best but rather a lifestyle choice.

    1. millie st murderlark

      I suppose the vast amounts of money being pumped into HAP to support people who are hard at work and still don’t have enough to make rent has nothing to do with it, no?

      It’s not the fault of the ordinary people that there is a housing shortage, and that the price of renting and buying property in this country is now astronomical.

      Poking the finger of blame at people who do exploit the system is unfair to the many people who genuinely need those supports, and it’s far from a lifestyle choice for them.

    2. Cian

      Anne, do you know what percentage of the social welfare bill is spent on dole?

      This year, of the €19,996 million:
      Pensions €7,571 [37.9%]
      Illness, Disability And Carers €4,148 [20.7%]
      Working Age – Income Supports €3,366 [16.8%]
      Children €2,644 [13.2%]
      Working Age – Employment Supports €823 [4.1%]
      Supplementary Payments €814 [4.1%]
      Administration €629 [3.1%]

      And if we look at two of these for the last 4 years; 2018 2017 2016 2015
      Working Age – Income Supports (€bn) 3.37 3.6 3.95 4.47
      Working Age – Employment Supports (€bn) 0.82 0.928 1.01 1.08

      so the amount of ‘dole’ has dropped by 25%.

      https://whereyourmoneygoes.gov.ie

      1. Anne

        Hi Cian,

        If you take 2016: 3.95 and 2017: 3.6 the decrease is around 8.86%. If you take unemployment in 2016: 8.5 and 2017: 7.1 the decrease is around 16.47%

        1. Cian

          Interesting point.

          But some of this can be accounted as:
          a) You are comparing apples with oranges. Unemployment rate is a percentage of available-workers.

          if there are 100 people and 7 have no jobs there is an unemployment rate of 7%;
          the following year if there are 117 people and still 7 without a job the employment rate falls to 6%; but there are still 7 people claiming dole – so the dole amount won’t change.

          b) it is possible to be on the dole for 9 months and then get a job. So you get included in both the outgoings for social welfare AND you are counted as employed (depending on when the unemployment figures are calculated)

          c) Different people are on different social welfare rates – possibly the people getting jobs are on lower rates than those remaining on the dole?

          But there does seem to be some amount of disconnect between the two figures.

          Either way, the dole element of the welfare bill has dropped by €1.3billion in 4 years. This is hardly “insignificant”

    3. Frilly Keane

      you know
      I doubt Margaret Cash ever had much choice about her lifestyle or control over it

      tis reaching out our hand to her is what we should be doing

  7. b

    “Of course not, did most of those people go onto become productive members of society? Absolutely.”

    Most? how are you judging this as a success, it’s not good enough for only most people to be productive members of society and there is a huge degree of selection bias in your statement ignoring the families that disintegrated, fell into care, had higher infant mortatlity etc

  8. MaryLou's ArmaLite

    I have not see anyone have anything but sympathy for the children. Imagine the mortification for a 10 year old – you sleeping in a Garda Station being all over the news.

    However it was Margaret Cash who put this into the public domain, she used social media to try and influence people and government to her benefit, and that comes with a cost.

  9. Frilly Keane

    and the band wagoned on
    and on
    now this

    ya know
    the more I hear and read from the Socie D’s backroom team slash candidates the less likely I’m to vote for them
    which is a pity
    as I’ve enormous time for Roisin and Catherine

  10. george

    Same scummers making their scummy comments on the post that says they’re scummers.
    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  11. ollie

    Anne Marie McNally, no mention of the father of these poor children in your article?
    He has a duty of care to his children, yet you are quick to attack social media?

    Social Democrat party is such a let down.

    1. Andrew

      SDP will ensure Margaret and people like Margaret will aspire to nothing more than welfare dependency.
      So no change form the various incarnations of left wing parties we have had.
      No aspiration for the children either. Keep them down with welfare.
      The usual simpletons on here crying about offense etc.

  12. rotide

    In all the commentary around this woman and her family, there has been a decided lack of outrage over the traveller side of it, I really don’t know where Ammo is getting that from.

    Secondly, as someone mentioned above, the lack of really obvious questions troubles me. If you remove the 7 children aspect of this, you are left with the very simple question of how did she end up in the garda station? Was she referred by the SDCC or did she not call them back as they say? If she didn’t go back to them, why not? What was her situation the previous nights?

    I’m sure some people know this information from furiously consulting the SD Policy Engine, sorry I mean Twitter but those basic answers seem to be lacking from the conversation

    Or maybe I’m a gobpoo who just didn’t bother to check (entirely possible I’m more than willing to admit)

    1. scottser

      there was a heap of traveller-related abuse on the journal over this woman, not so much on here.
      as for knowing the full picture, the conversation between this family and the council is confidential. it seems she was offered a placement in meath and either didn’t take it or confirm the booking and instead presented to the garda station.

  13. dannyboy

    Maybe a total reform to the system is needed
    To stop a new lot from gaming the system
    A living wage is the way to go and the end of welfare which increases as you have more children
    By removing the points for housing also favouring families with more kids than others
    Sadly we have a massive problem and it has to be stopped now

  14. Dr_Chimp

    Its painful that you are trying so desperately hard to find a reason to make this woman not what she appears to be. You are correct that often things are not that straightforward. But “sometimes things are just what they seem to be and that’s all there is to it”. This woman was found out and people are annoyed. You’d have a lot more support if you called genuine cheats cheats….or just stayed quiet about it

  15. Jeffrey

    Oh so the best thing to do is to come pour your scorn in a BS article onto strangers. Well done Anne Marie, around around we go.

  16. Ask Why

    Why is no one talking about the house that Margaret Cash was offered on July 17th? What happened to that house? She posted it on her facebook page all excited. Said it was in Tallaght.

  17. Steph Pinker

    For what it’s worth, I really hope I never find myself in a position whereby I need to rely on state services/ welfare for my survival, because, if the degree of understanding and compassion shown on BS by some individuals is indicative of how [Irish] people think, then it’s a indictment of how the society we’re creating is failing all of us in many aspects – and on every level.

    1. Rob_G

      I think that you are being a bit obtuse comparing someone who lost their job and is claiming benefits for a few months, to someone who has has been 100% reliant on the state for their entire life, has never contributed anything in return and has never intended on contributing.

    2. Lilly

      It’s the form-filling and the queuing in dismal surroundings that would put me off. On the plus side, your time is your own. That’s a form of wealth that’s often overlooked.

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