I am vexed. It is not fitting to be vexed at the height of an Irish summer,with our lovely long evenings and supposedly balmy weather.Nor is it fitting to be vexed when,in the evening of my life and on the cusp of changed circumstances, I deconstruct my home of 34 years and sort treasured possessions into ‘irreplaceable’,’would like to keep’ or ‘dispensable’, in joyful preparation for a whole new life,new adventures and new possibilities in a new home.OK – perhaps the disappointing summer weather has contributed to my crankiness,but the more I think about this, the more I realize that not only am I vexed and cranky, but I am also as MAD AS HELL,which may not be good for my blood pressure and general health.
Last week in green warm comfortable Ireland, it was revealed that a family of five – a mother and a father who has a job and is working, both in their 30s, together with their three children aged 5 years, 3 years and 2 years in and around the ages of my own three grandchildren were issued with sleeping bags by Focus Ireland, a charity for the homeless in Ireland. They had already spent a couple of nights in the park, having been evicted as their house was repossessed, before calling on the services for the homeless. I could not believe my ears when I heard this on radio – a charity for the homeless could do no more for this family than issue them with sleeping bags so that they could sleep on benches in a public park in the open air?? What,in the name of God has happened with this supposedly ‘christian’ country? What has gone wrong here?
This is a family that has been failed by not only the state but by society.This is a family that has been failed by overwhelmed charitable services that fill the vacuüm created by the state. This is a family that has been failed by the Government,led by a Taoiseach (Prime Minister) who earns more than the heads of Government of the bigger and more prosperous United Kingdom or France.The Minister with responsibility for housing seems to be on his holidays. His early claim to fame was that he beefed up a train service for his own constituency and 73 commuters at a cost of €20,000 per day. See news reports here. Not only that, but in February last, having acquired the Environment portfolio he ‘bitched’ about Peter McVerry, a lifelong advocate for the homeless, suggesting that he was exaggerating the plight of the homeless, and that he was ‘negative’. See here.
Minister Alan Kelly. Image from Newstalk fm
In November 2014, the Irish Taoiseach,(Prime Minister- who as stated above is paid more than the French or British leaders) went on a walkabout to see for himself the population of Irish people sleeping rough in Dublin. This was in response to the most embarrassing death of a homeless man, who chose to die on the steps of the Irish Parliament. Homeless people have died on a fairly regular basis across Ireland for years, in doorways, in parks, in refuse bins, but Jonathan Corrie chose to die at the very nerve centre of power,right there under the noses of those who have broadcast that everything is changing,austerity is over, we are all doing well, the economy is in great shape in this great little state of ours. Our ‘leading man’ rushed into action and went out among the homeless in Dublin City. He described seeing “rats skittering across sodden blankets”and a moment when “on Grafton Street, a Gucci sign beams over the remnants of humanity”. (Irish Times December 11, 2014). Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, proudly announced that there would be a change of Government focus ”from exclusively on the economy to include societal needs’, saying: “Our homeless crisis is a kind of autopsy of our national life, our priorities”. The reality is that 9 months later we have charities handing out sleeping bags to children as there is no shelter to be had in the entire city of Dublin. This situation is unfortunately reflected across Ireland with housing crises in all major towns and cities.
Homelessness is an unfortuante fact of life, even in the most prosperous societies. The typical homeless person in Ireland was single,someone whose life had disintegrated because of breakdown in relationships,mental health issues, substance abuse,whether drugs or alcohol,or all the above. These unfortunates had the services stretched,particularly in winter in this wet,cold climate. But all of this has changed in recent times. The stereotypical homeless of Ireland have been joined by people who have been overtaken by economic hardship, through loss of employment,reduction in wages,shorter working hours on the one hand,and more taxes,such as property tax,Universal Social Charge and water charges as well as a rising cost of living, in particular escalating rents. After six years of recession now we have entire families becoming homeless. The statistics are shocking. From July 20 to 26th 2015, there were 657 homeless families in Ireland with 1,383 children. There was a sharp increase from the January figure of 401 homeless families with 865 children. (Irish Times August 17 2015) Families are sleeping in cars, on park benches. In many cases they have been evicted as they cannot meet the cost of escalating rents, or have got into arrears from which they cannot extricate themselves. Others simply cannot find anywhere to rent as they simply do not have enough money. Meanwhile, the Government has failed to give better access to affordable housing for people in need.
Also in Dublin, hundreds flock to the Capuchin Day Centre for free breakfast and lunch and there can be over 1,000 people queuing for food parcels on Wednesday mornings.
Ireland enjoys an international reputation as a green and pleasant land of thatched cottages, red-haired children, donkeys, sandy beaches, rolling Atlantic waves, exquisite scenery, great culture and language, music and dance. Some elements of our diaspora love to highlight the injustice of the historic British rule of our nation. Let’s hear it from them now,let’s hear it from them and indeed from those at home who are willing to shout loudly about the failure of this Republic, about the indignity and the shame of three little children being handed out sleeping bags to spend the night in the open air in Dublin almost a century after the 1916 rising that we will celebrate – at huge expense next year.
Focus Ireland (with who I had the pleasure of working in Limerick on an enabling programme) can be found here.
Peter McVerry Trust can be found here.
Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People can be found here.