The deepening social inequality in both parts of Ireland is being highlighted as the island’s political leaders are again jetted off to exotic destinations for the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Always a traditional perk for the Dublin government, this year’s most expensive junket appears to be an extended trip to sun-drenched Brazil for the North’s First and Deputy First Ministers.
The office of the DUP’s Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness have infuriated the mainstream media with a near-total silence on the details of the trip, which is understood to include an extended stay in Sao Paolo’s most luxurious five-star hotel, as well as excursions to Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia.
Ironically, Robinson is said to have declined to take part in a St Patrick’s Day event in Rio, where the famous ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue is to be photographed in a green light as part of an Irish tourism campaign.
From Brazil, the ministers and their entourage will fly to the United States for this weekend’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations and the traditional reception at the White House.
One of the first accounts of the unusual junket was a photograph released by Martin McGuinness on Twitter of himself in the company of footballing legend Bobby Charlton, enjoying the comforts of transatlantic first class.
Meanwhile, scores of officials from the 26 Counties have joined senior and junior Ministers in making trips to sunny destinations in the name of promoting Irish trade and tourism.
At least twenty lucky Dublin government ministers have received the St Patrick’s Day junkets this year, with destinations including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, the Middle East, as well as several destinations in Europe and the USA.
An unknown number of senior public servants have also received free trips abroad -- although one official, Roscommon county manager Frank Dawson had to postpone his trip to sunny Arizona after being implicated in this week’s penalty points scandal by TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.
In tandem with the extraordinary exodus, a protest is being organised by individual left-wing activists entirely through the internet. The non-party-political rally will be held outside the Dublin parliament at 4pm tomorrow [Saturday]. According to the organisers, the #16M [March 16] protest is being planned to tell the government “that we say NO to bank bail outs and heartless austerity measures and demand real representation. Put people first!”
Meanwhile, in the North, economic concerns are also growing across both communities. With a British Tory-imposed ‘bedroom tax’ set to be imposed on those living in public housing, statistics this week have shown that almost one third of the targets of the tax are unable to pay their weekly rent, and are already in arrears.
As a result of the planned ‘bedroom tax’, up to 86,000 social housing tenants who receive housing benefits will see those cut. Depending on the size of the family household, tenants will have to pay extra to their landlord to make up the difference -- additional amounts ranging from £400 to £1,000 each year from their subsistence incomes.
éirígí general secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith said it was “an inescapable fact” that, almost fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, there has been virtually no attempt to address major economic inequalities, or to alter the persistently high levels of social and economic hardship encountered by families across the Six Counties.
“The reality for people in the Six Counties has been a massive, negative experience with a return to mass unemployment, reduced health and social services, educational cut-backs, continued community disintegration and an increase in repressive legislation aimed at further eroding human rights and civil liberties of citizens,” he said.
“éirígí has consistently advocated that the solution to those ills will not be found within a Six County settlement inside the British state and, on a daily basis, more people are coming to that same conclusion.”