Raising a family in Dublin

By Kathleen O Halloran

I see they have jailed a nursing mother for one week for protesting over the waste tax. This mother's child stays with her at night in Mount Joy and goes home with its father to Dorset St. during the day. The treatment of this mother by the state in the republic comes as no surprise.

Can I just lay out for you some of the difficult practicalities of making ends meet.

Firstly, if you have any children at school the parents are responsible for providing every school book that their child needs. That is why there is a big market in second hand school books. Providing one child with all its school books is one thing but if you have two or three kids at school that is much more difficult. Most families will have two or three kids at school. A recent report in the republic said that thousands of school children go to school each morning without breakfast and without proper clothing. Packed lunches are needed as there are no school meals, and there is no such thing as school transport for either statemented or regular kids. I remember once sending my son in to school for an exam and when he came home he told me that he had to borrow paper to write on as none was provided. I made this mistake because on this part of the island nothing is allowed in to an exam except pens and rulers. Also there are no such thing as a school nurse at least none that I ever saw.

The health service in the republic is a scandal. It is a two tier health system at its worst. A lot of people will have voluntary health insurance (VHI). This pays for doctor and hospital treatment and each person pays their own premium according to their particular needs. For example a growing family who may not be able to afford VHI may have a child that develops a particular illness. Illnesses, such as diabetes, asthma or epilepsy. A recent report from a consultant at Our Lady's hospital in Crumlin said diabetes in the republic had reached epidemic proportions. If this child's parents have not had the money for VHI and their child develops an illness the parents cannot then go and insure it. They can insure it for everything else except the illness. So if this kid needs to go in to hospital it goes into a public bed. Sometimes no public beds are available and the hospital will accommodate the child in a paying ward, but if another child comes along that has VHI then that child's parents can ask that the other child be moved. That is the reality of a two tier health system.

If you are out of work and you or your child needs to go to the doctor then you will need to register with a doctor who will deal with the state scheme that caters for state recipients. If you work and cannot afford VHI a doctors appointment will knock you back eight quid. Prescriptions are paid for in full, if you are unemployed you can apply for a book of blank prescriptions which you then take with you to your doctor. If you run out of tablets because you forgot to order them there is no such thing as borrowing from the chemist. Chemists pay for their own drugs and are loathe to lend anything as they could be out of pocket. So don't ask as refusal often offends!

Opticians are all private practice but there is a minimum of support for the unemployed. Dentistry is the same. There is an emergency service at some hospitals but they will only extract a tooth, maintenance you pay for yourself.

For families on the dole the community welfare officer will decide your benefits by interpreting the rules; if you think you are entitled to more and he says no - then his word is law, you won't get past him.

Of course all of this is for families that are already established, for those only starting out their biggest problem is to get a roof over their heads. I remember taking the bus to see my friend who lived in Ballymun. Herself, her husband and three boys' lived in a two bed room flat. There were no radiators in the flat, the floor heated up and lines of washing were hung in the bedroom, for clothes had to be dried. This girl had a problem holding on to her pregnancies, she kept losing them, but there were no community nurses to call out. Maternity services again were a two tier system and contraception even yet is not freely available. I think Well Woman clinics provide it free but you can only get the pill on prescription and not other forms of contraception such as condoms. For the pill you need to go to your doctor and the same system applies.

The list of hardship for families and citizens here is endless, very poor legal aid and the disparity between the have and have nots is great.

They can well do without this unfair bin charge, considering home owners in inner City Dublin do not pay rates, a concession from Fianna Fail to gain votes. It is those who can ill afford it who will have to stomp up for this bin charge.

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