Eamonn Kelly: Gaming the System (How The Pros Do It)


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar claimed  people asked to be laid off so they could claim the €350 Covid-19 payment; Eamonn Kelly

Leo Varadkar told a press conference the other day that he had heard stories of people asking employers to lay them off to take advantage of the €350 coronavirus welfare payment.

He presented no evidence for this and simply used his platform as acting taoiseach to denigrate workers who, it was implied, were looking to turn the coronavirus crisis to their own financial advantage.

There were any number of anecdotes the acting taoiseach might have told to raise a giggle at people angling for an extra buck during a crisis.

Like retailers boosting prices on goods during the coronavirus crisis; or AIB deducting bank charges direct from the accounts of people who had just been laid off due to that crisis; or the plentiful anecdotes of private landlords over-charging tenants during the housing crisis in a private rental market made attractive by a neo-liberal government determined not to provide social housing. Ireland is rife with system-gamers exploiting crises, and we have the social casualties to prove it.

However, minister Varadkar chose to target low-paid workers for his derision, as is his form.

And the manner in which he told the anecdote, that slow grin, as if he had never heard of such cheek, revealed that same old ingrained prejudice against poor people that this privileged man has enforced time and again through social policy and sly insinuation.

The allegation is of course totally anecdotal. But Mr Varadkar, currently acting taoiseach, should really back this public statement up with names of employers and workers who, he claims, were attempting to game the system. In the interests of transparency.

He owes it to those workers who have been working around the clock providing basic services to all during the crisis, to at least identify those among their number who, he claims, were attempting to skive off work under false pretenses and claim the coronavirus welfare payment.

A payment, incidentally, which is striking in its generosity, with the minister declaring that the standard jobseeker’s allowance of €203 just isn’t enough to live on. That’s news.

That the payment is being divvied out by a politician who lost their seat in the last election, but is still somehow the minster for social protection, might cause a cynic to suspect a motive behind such generosity. An upcoming election might favour the politician behind such a generous gesture. A lost seat might be won back. Bought back, even.

The Culprits

There is a clue in Leo Varadkar’s statement as to the identity of the workers and employers at the root of the anecdote. It lies in his reference to 20 hours and an extra €11.

This can only be a  Community Employment (CE) scheme, or something similar, and the employer in question can only be a CE supervisor, who work closely with the DEASP.

So the anecdote most likely has its roots in a CE scheme, with a CE worker, who may or may not have been joking, putting this proposition to a CE supervisor who, apparently, reported it back to the DEASP, from where it was likely passed to Mr Varadkar’s PR representatives, who appear to have used the story in the hope of gaining some political capital by denigrating a target group; this time “lazy” low-paid workers on the make in a crisis.

In this attempt to gain political capital we see once again the familiar Varadkar ploy of targeting a weak group, incapable of political response, in an attempt to turn the anger of their peers upon the target group.

The bottom line being, as in the now infamous welfare cheats campaign, to create division and suspicion among those sections of society most adversely affected by austerity, low wages, premium accommodation costs, a financially crippled health service, and all the other familiar inequalities that are a consequence of the neo-liberal policies pursued by Fine Gael.

But Mr Varadkar lacks the courage of his convictions, holding back from going all the way with his scapegoating.

Rather than leaving those alleged system gamers in quiet community employment anonymity as the subjects of an amusing anecdote for comfortable socialites, he ought to, if he wants to be seen to be following through consistently on his charges, expose the individual culprits fully to public shaming. It’s clear that this is his intent in bringing up the subject. So let him go all the way.

Maybe set the culprits up on a scaffold in Smithfield and have over-worked staff of essential services fling rotten fruit at them. If you’re going to scapegoat, at least do it with a bit of pizzazz and give the public a show. All else is just unverifiable spin with a mean-minded twist and an intent to target the defenceless to gain political capital.

Such a mean-minded attack might even be construed as a deliberate and calculated act of relational aggression. An underhanded mode of behaviour that is not only beneath the office of taoiseach, but is beneath the standards of any decent person.

New Understandings

But we can take it by now that Fine Gael don’t just toss out ideas like this in an idle fashion. There is something behind it. Could it be an attempt to sow divisiveness between workers? Heroes vs lazybones? But why?

The clue might be found in Mr Varadkar’s own manifesto of 2017 when he was hungering after the Fine Gael leadership and the prize of becoming taoiseach by the back door.

In that manifesto was a proposal, based on a Tory template, to prevent workers of certain defined occupations from striking. Such occupations would first be defined as “essential services”, and the proposal would be to ban them from striking, because such strikes would be deemed too damaging to the public good.

Such a ban would of course curtail workers’ options in challenging disreputable employers seeking to exploit them.

Now the coronavirus restrictions have given Fine Gael and their right-wing associates an opportunity to clearly define “essential services”, and the payoff for the right might well be a ban on strikes by those workers they are currently characterising as “heroes”.

Beware the compliments of a flatterer, so said Machiavelli to the Prince.

Such a move would put essential workers at the mercy of government and employers in terms of pay and benefits, with no recourse to protest on their own behalf without breaking the law. To say no to employer exploitation would be a criminal act.

In the future, the only bonuses essential workers might be seeing may be the occasional public round of applause. Like artists and musicians, they may well find themselves expected to work for the experience and the “exposure”, and because they “love what they do”.

Gaming the System

An argument was made in the Irish Times a week or so ago that Fine Gael ministers have governing skills that new ministers might not have, and since we are in the midst of a crisis, it might be best to leave Fine Gael personnel installed in their previous government positions, despite the election results.

That sounds reasonable enough given the circumstances. Though when you consider that the government in question is the same one that ran down the health service in a privatisation drive, among other neo-liberal strategies undermining social equality, the situation doesn’t seem quite as rosy.

A clear picture emerges of a fox smiling in a hen-house and saying, Sure, I’ll take care of everything. You relax. Don’t bother your pretty little heads about anything.

There was also the suspicion that the article in question was one of those fake articles from the Fine Gael spin unit, placed as a genuine article in a reputable newspaper, to help the cause of remaining in power even when some of their ministers have lost their seats.

Writing your own news and op-eds; leaving ministers in place to divvy out generous amounts of public funds; devising new strategies to divide and disempower workers, while cleverly attempting to suspend parliament under the guise of public health concerns.

Now that, is gaming the system.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance Writer and Playwright.

Friday: Tested Negative And Petty

Previously: Eamonn Kelly on Broadsheet



16 thoughts on “Eamonn Kelly: Gaming the System (How The Pros Do It)

  1. jockey

    I can’t finish the article. If he wants a hardworking shopkeeper or bank manager to be mentioned in the same breath as the feral people who live off the state for free, and take every little freebie they can from the government, he’s going to have to try harder than this. Banks have been working around the clock to organise mortgage holidays and business loans for anyone struggling. For the vast majority of people, quarterly fees are less than 40€. Shopkeepers have probably never had such a crisis to work against. They’re doing a hell of a lot more to keep the country going than the people to whom (he says) Leo was referring.

  2. Verbatim

    “In the future, the only bonuses essential workers might be seeing may be the occasional public round of applause. Like artists and musicians, they may well find themselves expected to work for the experience and the “exposure”, and because they ‘love what they do’.”
    Yes, indeed this.

  3. Clampers Outside

    I’m only a few paragraphs in and I can see Eamon has no idea of DP&GDPR.

    And, I’ll add, I too have heard the anecdote referred to, not as an anecdote, but voiced by a concerned employer.

    1. Clampers Outside

      “He owes it to those workers who have been working around the clock providing basic services to all during the crisis, to at least identify those among their number who, he claims, were attempting to skiv….”


      “the anecdote most likely has its roots in a CE scheme, with a CE worker, who may or may not have been joking, putting this proposition to a CE supervisor who, apparently, reported it back to the DEASP” 

      DEASP provide the anecdote, and Leo should inform the DEASP of the enecdote source….?

      Isn’t that a circular argument, or some such, no?

      Then there’s the claim this is a supposedly targeted and intentional comment by Leo (even though the piece so says it may have been sourced from a “joke”) meant to divide people, which, imo, is pure speculation.

      I know a student who was on a 4hr week at a local retailer who now gets €350/week. It is my opinion that this is what Leo was talking about, not as the piece suggests an intentional targeting of the “lazy” or low paid, but of genuine cases.

      I also find it odd that the piece does not mention that Leo also brushed off the concerns of the overpaid in saying that this is not a perfect solution and that it was a solution put in place quickly for the greater benefit, and that there would be anomalies. 

      Then the piece goes on about mean mindedness, having built its argument on speculation…. Will ya shhhhhtop. 

      The “New Understandings” section reads like a conspiracy theory picked off the bottom of the Internet.

      The first two paragraphs of the “Gaming The System” section are the only reasonable parts, ie not pure speculation, in this entire rant. 

      Entertaining piece, yes. Hyper speculative opinion, certainly. 

  4. :-Joe

    100% Agree with you Eamonn…

    Very well articulated and spot on yet again in covering a wide spectrum of the various on-going issues.

    It was made even better for me by having read Derek (Future Whistleblower Extrordinaire)Mooney’s propaganda piece for Me-hole “Joker” Martin and his other half of the F-f/g establishment coalition for naked averice and blatent corruption of democracy just before it.

    I’ve got to say after reading this…

    To all the people who swallowed the recent “der leodar” virus speech wholeheartedly at the first opportunity. A speech that has now been edited with the hollywood movie special-effects trailer-style sentimentality treatment and is still constantly on rotation in the state/corporate media machine…

    You honestly thought he was finally(FINALLY?) standing up and doing a great job?… Really? Well you’ve been had. You’ve been tricked, manipulated, taken advantage of, lied to once again.

    You believed he was making good, redeeming himself by finally showing, acting or being a statesman, a leodar…A Taoiseach you could believe in and get behind… – FFS.. Are you sleepwalking?.. Wake up!…

    Varadker has never been democratically elected or given a mandate by the public to lead as Taoiseach and his whole tenure is a scam agreed with and supported by F-f/g and the establishment for the benefit of elite minority machinery together. The fact that he would even be standing on a podium silent is an affront to any concept of democracy.

    If you feel the need to recoil in defense of his government then you’re deluded with propaganda that’s been going on for years. The evidence from his and their actions in F-f/g is completely and consistently the same the whole time.

    Go and find a mirror, stand in front of it, breath in for seven and out for eleven, relax your mind and body and take the time to think properly and have a good hard look at yourselves.

    At least entertain the idea that maybe you should consider voting and supporting anyone else other than F-f/g. Anyone else for once that actually cares about Ireland and it’s future beyond their own selfish narrow-minded death-cult ideaology of greed, averice and the self-interest of minority elites before a fair shake for the population as a whole.

    Try it at least once before you die, you can always try a local independent if you can’t get behind another party, what have you really got to lose?… Only your loyalty to a regressive system of abject abuse?..


    1. Clampers Outside

      I’ve been doing that since I got the vote, and yet I still don’t agree with this speculative opinion piece full of assumptions that Eamon has written. What now for moi, eh :)

      1. :-Joe

        Eh, what assumptions?..

        Plenty of evidence shows that what he has said above has been happening over and over again.. Also, similar to and often exactly the same as various corrupt actions of other governments all around our globalised world..

        I think he’s entitled to speculate in his own article or opinion piece and he doesn’t claim it as fact for sure. Neither does der leo to be fair…

        No, you don’t agree or no, you don’t see it happening?.. Idk, maybe look a little closer or look at it from another point of view maybe?…

        I think it’s good that you’re voting for an individual independent or at least not the most corrupt but if you don’t or can’t see any benefit from it then all I can say is that’s a choice you have to make yourself but try to play the long game without personal short-term gain.
        – i.e. The opposite of most of the planet’s problems.


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