The Dublin government issued a number of statements to claim the successes of its economic policy this week, even as thousands of recent emigrants bade tearful farewell to their loved ones following a Christmas break in Ireland.
More than 170,000 mostly young, educated and skilled Irish workers have left in search of work in Australia, Canada and Asia over the past two years alone. In Dublin Airport’s Terminal Two this week, heartbroken parents, grandparents, partners and children wiped away tears as they said goodbye.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has accused the leaders of the Dublin coalition government, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton, of having their heads in the sand over the difficulties being experienced by families and individuals.
He was speaking after the government mounted a public relations exercise, trumpeting the reduction in unemployment.
“All the evidence points towards a remarkable turnaround in Ireland’s economic outlook,” Burton wrote, condemning “doomsday predictions” that suggested the “sky was about to fall”. A
“In the coming months, the Labour Party will mount a fightback against this kind of politics. We will begin to roll out an agenda that will build on what has been achieved while recognising the genuine threats that do arise,” she wrote.
But as Minister for Social Protection, Burton made no secret of her efforts encourage those who are struggling financially to emigrate.
Her officials revealed this week that they have sent 13,000 letters to jobseekers in the past year alone, to ask them to apply for work abroad, both inside and outside the European Union. Activists for the unemployed have condemned the coercive nature of the notices.
Meanwhile, the plight of those at the bottom of Ireland’s economic ladder was sharply highlighted by the death from exposure of yet another homeless man this week. In another tragic case, an inquest heard that a woman facing eviction, who was found dead by sheriffs as they repossessed her home, had overdosed on painkillers.
And hospitals across the state are in crisis, with patients being forced to spend days waiting for beds, including the elderly and terminally ill. Across the state, some 600 hospital patients are now being accommodated on trolleys or other makeshift bedding.
Fine Gael Minister for Health Leo Varadkar was on vacation in Florida and unavailable for comment as nurses at Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital warned they would walk out later this month over “intolerable conditions”.
At the other end of the economic spectrum, meanwhile, many of those who caused the collapse of the economy are back in the government’s good books.
The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), the state’s bad bank for handling distressed assets, has said it is set to pay “bonuses” to those developers whose wild and chaotic borrowing helped to collapse the 26 County economy in 2008.
And scandalised former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery is now set to brought back into the party fold after Mr Kenny said he still regarded him as “a friend” and that “there are always opportunities for people to give of their best”. Flannery was a key lobbyist for the Rehab charity at a time when it was accused of fraudulently diverting funds from a state-supported lottery operation into staff pockets. Flannery was forced to quit as Fine Gael’s director of elections in March over the scandal.
With inequity in Irish society once again on the increase, Mr Adams said both Fine Gael and Labour were “detached from the daily reality for many citizens”.
Both party leaders were “dismissive of the impact of their harsh austerity policies on struggling families,” he said.
“Many will have said goodbye to loved ones who returned home over the Christmas period.
“Wages continue to fall as the government introduces water charges and increases in the family household tax.
“Many tenants face an uncertain future as rents continue to rise and those in mortgage difficulty continue to be pursued by the banks.
“Children, older citizens and citizens with disabilities are reliant on public services that are being undermined and cut back.
“What is required now is a radical change of political direction. That requires a change of government.”
Sinn Fein’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald also warned that the controversy over water charges “hasn’t gone away”.
She was dismissive of the suggestions by the two leaders that the Universal Social Charge, a flat tax on incomes introduced four years ago, might be eased in future budgets.
“I think at this stage the Taoiseach and indeed the Tanaiste will probably promise to do just about anything if it will see a bounce in their poll ratings,” Ms McDonald said.
“The Taoiseach and the Government should understand that if they want to do one single thing now that would be of assistance to low and middle-income families they should just scrap the water charges.”
She said the government parties’ attention had turned to the next General Election.
“In that context they need to understand that the issue of water charges hasn’t gone away. They would be very foolish to imagine that that were the case,” she said.