By Patrick Brogan
“Poor people are made of inferior material…and cannot be improved”
The above quote is attributed to Norman Pearson and it sums up Victorian attitudes towards poverty. It could also sum the attitude of the Irish political class on the same subject.
This week saw a huge furore over Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and how much she knew about the Gardaí questioning whistleblower Maurice McCabe’s motivation for highlighting Garda malpractice during her tenure as Minster for Justice. The developments caused Fitzgerald to step down and nearly triggered a General Election.
These events and what led up to them are important. Firstly, she lied to the Dáil, whether unknowingly or not can be debated. Secondly, the situation regarding the garda whistleblowers, not just Maurice McCabe alone, is very important because allegedly an organisation that is supposed to be a force for good very quickly became one of cover-ups. There is a willingness to prevent any proper address of the situation and this was something shared by the political class, too. Numerous investigations and reports have been conducted and yet it is still a major issue.
While we cannot dismiss the ongoing saga of what happened in our police force or a politician lying to the Dáil, is it really above the lives of ordinary citizens and by that I mean the ones who are out on the streets in these freezing conditions?
Do Fine Gael Care?
In recent weeks alone, there have been enough comments to show that those tasked to face and solve these ongoing problems actually don’t give a shit. Add to this, the fact this has been building for years. Fine Gael can point to social problems and say they were caused Fianna Fáil‘s mismanagement of the economy, but Fine Gael have in power since 2011.
Earlier this month, Leo Varadkar made the claim that Ireland has a low level of homelessness compared to other European nations. TheJournal.ie‘s FactCheck service said these claims could not be proven for a number of reasons. However, regardless if they are low or not, one person being homeless is a tragedy and these comments suggest that homelessness is not a priority for Fine Gael.
Then we had the junior housing minister Damien English criticise the media for covering this because it is damaging Ireland’s reputation abroad. Clearly he is more interested in perceptions than tackling homelessness. Why didn’t Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil issue a no confidence motion in Varadkar and English for their comments, because after hearing them I have no confidence they will do anything about it or Simon Coveney and Eoghan Murphy as the previous and current ministers for housing?
Then we had Dublin City Council get in on the act, too. Eileen Gleeson, the director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive — the very group that is meant to deal with homelessness–, said it “it takes years of bad behaviour” to end up homeless. Again, it is the old view that anyone homeless deserves to be so and global economic factors like a financial crash and a badly set-up Eurozone don’t come in to it. This is because if they can blame the poor they don’t have to do anything. How is this woman still in a job?
Fine Gael have repeatedly failed to address this national crisis. While Varadkar might be representing the early risers, over 3,000 children are in emergency accommodation. Is he expecting these kids to go out and work? What’s clear is his party’s disdain for those in serious need.
We have to also question our own role as a society. Where is the moral outrage? These are fellow human beings out on the street. The next time you are out in the cold weather try to imagine what it would be like to sleep out in that night after night, year after year.
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