Posts Tagged 'Poverty in Ireland'

Fresh Perspectives: New TDs on the development of a more social Europe – Mick Wallace TD

This is one of a series blogs by new TDs to encourage an active debate between political representatives, EAPN Ireland members, and the broader public on the future of the European Social Agenda, and the role of the new Dáil in debate on Europe.

Mick Wallace is an Independent TD for Wexford. He was elected for the first time to the Dáil in 2011 and is a member of the Technical Group.

With a population of 4.6 million and a GDP of €150 billion, Ireland is a relatively small player in Europe (the EuroZone countries alone have a combined population of 330 million and a GDP of €9,200bn), so it can be difficult for us to make our voice heard – however, it is important that we play our part and as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee of European Union Affairs. I hope to make a constructive contribution by scrutinising legislation and proposals emanating from the EU as well as making sure the government is held to account in its dealings with Europe.

Today, one in five people in the European Union is at risk of poverty or social exclusion and 40 million people are living in a condition of severe deprivation. Although the media discourse about Europe is primarily concerned with banks and bondholders, the devastating social consequences (felt across Europe) of bowing to the interests of financial institutions and private speculators is what makes the financial crisis a reality for ordinary European citizens. Cuts to social welfare, education, and health in conjunction with tax increases and rising unemployment are the hallmarks of a European response to the crisis that is not only failing but making things worse. Here at home almost 100,000 children live in consistent poverty and nearly 230,000 live in relative poverty. Despite these shocking figures, the Fine Gael/Labour coalition is committed to implementing the policies of its predecessor which specifically target those who are already vulnerable. In education the cuts coming into effect in September 2011 will have a devastating impact on children with special needs and learning difficulties, Traveller pupils and the children of non-nationals as well as having a knock-on effect across the education system.

In working towards a more social Europe it is important that our focus is on protecting the interests of ordinary European citizens as opposed to those of banks or private companies. In this regard, a key area of concern is the proposed reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy. In Ireland alone the Seafood Industry contributes about €700 million annually to national income and employs somewhere in the region of 11,000 people – it is also a valuable industry for many of our European neighbours providing jobs not only on fishing vessels but in processing operations, in distributing and marketing seafood as well as other areas. In its proposals the European Commission has called for the introduction of a system of transferable fish quotas – this is worrying as it may lead to a situation where multinational companies acquire an unfair proportion of quotas resulting in an effective privatisation of the quota system with the knock-on effect of job losses in fishery-dependent communities. Coastal communities across Europe must not be sacrificed for the profits of multinational companies.

I welcome the acknowledgement a few weeks ago by IMF deputy director Ajai Chopra that the problems that Ireland faces are not just an Irish problem but a shared European problem. And whilst Minister Noonan jokes about ordering t-shirts with the words “Ireland is not Greece” printed on them, many of us outside government circles realise the importance of promoting solidarity between Irish citizens and our European counterparts. This is not about pitting Irish people against Greek or Portuguese citizens, just as domestic debate should not be stifled by creating an artificial divide between public sector and private sector workers. This kind of discourse is initiated and nurtured by governments in conjunction with a complicit media with the aim of dividing citizens and conquering dissent against austerity measures and socially unjust policies.

We were informed in the past that the European Union was supposed to be a family of nations and that we would all look after each other. The EU was founded on the principle of solidarity between the nation states of Europe, and their citizens. These ideals have fallen to the wayside as austerity gains a deeper foothold. It is our task as European citizens to restore our shared values of equality, solidarity and fairness to the centre of the European project and ensure that these principles are not consigned to the pages of history as elements of a bygone era.

Mick Wallace TD

Unique Opportunity to Tackle Poverty in Ireland and Europe

Anna Visser is the Director of EAPN Ireland. Before joining EAPN Ireland in January 2008,  Anna worked as Senior Policy Officer for the European Network against Racism (ENAR) in Brussels.  Anna has worked in policy roles in the statutory and NGO sectors at regional, national and international level, in the areas of anti-racism, equality, human rights and conflict resolution.  Anna is a member of the steering committees of the Community Platform and the Equality and Rights Alliance, and a board member of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

Today (19/02/10) the Irish Government will launch its programme for the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. The 2010 year is an opportunity for the Irish state and the European Union to send out a powerful and ambitious message that poverty has no place in modern Europe. For the 80 million men, women and children who still live in poverty in the European Union, the 2010 year can offer hope and the chance of a better future.

As we emerge from a socially and economically tumultuous decade, it is understandable that many people look towards national and European politics with a sense of scepticism and detachment. An economic model that provided so much certainty has fallen into crisis, suddenly and brutally demonstrating the vagaries of the market in everyday lives; unemployment, cuts to services, debt and hardship.

At a national level, the 2010 Year can play an important role in tackling the destructive legacy of the economic crash, as well as addressing structural social problems such as long-term unemployment and exclusion. To determine how best to engage with these issues, it is useful to examine what has been achieved in the fight against poverty and social exclusion so far.

Recent data shows that successive Irish governments, in cooperation with the European Union, have made considerable progress in tackling poverty in Ireland.  Relative poverty decreased year on year and now stands at 14.4%, down from 21% in 2001. Significantly, consistent poverty has been reduced to 4.2%, and the Government is now within touching distance of its stated objective of reducing consistent poverty to between 2 and 4% by 2012 and eliminating it entirely by 2016.

It should be recognised that these hard fought gains have had real and tangible benefits for many thousands of men, women and children across the state; lifting them out of poverty and providing the opportunity of a better life. However, it is now clear that these gains are not secure. Rather than representing any kind of deep-seated commitment to building a fairer, sustainable and more equal economic and social model, it is becoming apparent that social supports were premised on Charlie McCreevy’s belief that “when I have it, I spend it.”

Now that we no longer “have it” Ireland needs to learn from the mistakes of the past, and articulate a sustainable and people focused vision for the future. The 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion represents a major opportunity to develop a vision of a better Ireland while contributing to the development of a European Union that can finally make a decisive impact on poverty at home and globally.

While a social focus has not always come naturally to the European Union, Ireland has a strong and commendable track record in contributing to a more progressive European social agenda.  Ireland was a key player in the development of robust European equality legislation and our representatives have had a substantial impact in progressing social objectives within the Union. Similarly, the social clause in the Lisbon Treaty was negotiated during the last Irish Presidency of the EU in 2004. Ireland’s participation in Europe has generated positive and progressive social outcomes, for us as well as our neighbours, such as gender equality in the workplace and stronger anti-discrimination legislation. In recent years however, the Irish state and its negotiators have not always played the same positive role as their predecessors in promoting the EU’s social agenda.

Ireland’s lukewarm commitment to that agenda is reflected even more starkly in its decision making at home. The Government is committed to supporting the 2010 Year and has allocated time and resources to developing a national programme. Despite that apparent commitment, decisions made in the last eighteen months – the downgrading of the community development programme, the closure of the Combat Poverty Agency, reductions in benefits for vulnerable people – will seriously damage the state’s capacity to tackle poverty and social exclusion at the very time that it is most urgently needed.

The social and economic fortunes of Ireland and the European Union are bound together. The 2010 Year will see the negotiation and adoption of a new Lisbon Strategy, a common programme for all member states and a roadmap for our collective recovery over the next ten years. Ireland has a major opportunity to lead the way in calling for an ambitious new agenda that prioritises people, society, and quality of life ahead of profits, property and the primacy of the market. We will spend many years examining the lessons of the past, but 2010 is a chance to set out a powerful and progressive vision for the future; one that has the potential to genuinely unite people in a common project to create fairer, sustainable, more equal societies in Ireland and across the European Union.

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