My column in The Kerryman. 30 October, 2013
The Victorians had firm ideas about dealing with the poor. If you were too sick, young or old to work you were the deserving poor. If able bodied but couldn’t find a job, then they’d make your life as unpleasant as possible. You’d be admitted to a workhouse, where families were separated, one’s possessions confiscated and the inmates put to work in unsanitary and disease ridden conditions.
So feared were workhouses that some people chose jail.
When this style of ‘charity’ ended, some of the workhouses were converted into Industrial Schools, where the children of Ireland’s poorest families were incarcerated, left to the tender mercies of the violent and sexually deviant religious.
Fortunately these days there are just too many lobby groups representing the interests of children for them to be so obviously abused. It’s also considered very politically incorrect to jail poor people, just for being poor. So our politicians have had to develop the skill of hitting hardest, the people less likely and most incapable of hitting back, while still appearing civilised.
That doesn’t make them bad people. We elect them primarily to make decisions on how much of our money must be taken from us, to pay for services we may never need. That’s why we loved the Fianna Fáil Bubble so much. Not only were we being charged less in taxes, we had our egos stroked by their being so much more money spent on the deserving poor. We didn’t even worry much about the undeserving poor. Great days.
In 2011 we elected Fine Gael to work out how best to divide our newly decimated pie. And they’ve got to do it in such a way that’ll help them win re-election. They can only hope to win re-election if they’re careful to keep certain sectors of society on-side. Those sectors include first and foremost, people likely to vote.
People least likely to vote are those in consistent poverty and young adults. People least likely to vote for Fine Gael are people who work with and support those in poverty and young adults. Who have been targeted most by the recent Budget; the poor, those who support the poor and young adults.
I do have some sympathy for the poorest, but we live a country which will not countenance tax increases for their sake. That’s democracy. Many of us are also happy to hear people on the dole being demonised. We know there are no jobs, but we still have this sneaky suspicion the unemployed are having a ball.
I’ve no sympathy for young adults. Not because they deserve to suffer. Not because a 23 year old adult is entitled to less social welfare than a 27 year old adult. Not because young adults traditionally suffer most during a national crisis, they either fight our wars or emigrate en masse.
My sympathy is exhausted because young adults could resist, but choose not to. They could stop themselves being disproportionately targeted. All they need do is vote. The Institute of Technology in Tralee has over 3,000 students, foreign and domestic. They are all entitled to vote in next year’s local elections. Three thousand votes is enough to win a seat on the County Council. A block of 3000 voters will convince any politician to pick on someone else.