April 2013        

The question remains: when are we going to talk about class?

The result of the recent election in Meath East again shows the totally inadequate response from the left in the Republic to the crisis, whether it be the Labour Party or Sinn Féin. It has to be said, however, that those two parties have long deserted their working-class roots, particularly Labour, which was resoundingly humiliated by the people of Meath East because of the party’s backing of the most severe austerity that our people have suffered since the failed revolution of 1916.
     This writer, who listened to the daily public announcements of the candidates, kept hoping that one of them would eventually mention the sheer inequality of wealth in our society, especially income inequality. The very low turn-out shows that people are becoming more apathetic to mainstream politics, because of the lies and deceit that the three main parties have continually fed them.
     One has only to recall the brass neck of the former Workers’ Party TD Pat Rabbitte, who cannot be kept off the television these days. I refer to his comments on “This Week in Politics” last December. When asked about the Labour Party’s broken pre-election promises that constituted the party’s lame attempt to incorporate “fairness” in its manifesto Rabbitte retorted in typical bullish fashion: “Isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?”
     Here are some examples of what was spoken about during this election.
     In 1962 the wealthiest 1 per cent had 125 times the wealth of a median household; in 2010 the ratio was 288 to 1. In the 1970s the pay of a CEO was about 30 times that of a typical worker: today it is more than 200 times. From 1978 to 2011 severance pay for private-sector workers grew by 5.7 per cent; for CEOs it grew by more than 725 per cent.
     Despite a strong body of equality legislation, several groups remain particularly vulnerable to discrimination and exclusion, including single mothers, children, Travellers, people with disabilities, migrants, asylum-seekers, and the homeless. In accordance with the Human Rights Framework, Ireland should be particularly mindful that policies should not exacerbate the situation of such groups and should take positive measures to help these vulnerable sections regain their equal footing with the rest of the society.
     A number of recent measures are of concern in this respect, especially the reduction in child benefit and benefits for job-seekers, carers, single-parent families, persons with disabilities, and the blind. The effect of these measures will be exacerbated by reductions in funding for a number of social services that are essential for the same vulnerable people, including disability, community and voluntary services, Travellers’ supports, drug outreach initiatives, rural development schemes, the RAPID programme, and Youthreach.
     By adopting these measures Ireland runs a high risk of excluding those most in need of support and ignoring the needs of the most vulnerable. In particular, because of multiple forms of entrenched discrimination, women are especially vulnerable to the detrimental effects of reductions in social services and benefits.
     Independent experts note the commitment in the Programme for Government to refrain from further reducing social protection benefits but urge the state to take immediate steps to ensure that the situation of the most excluded and disadvantaged groups does not deteriorate further as a result of these measures.
     The question remains: when are we going to talk about class?

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