Jan 2012

Joan Burton twists the knife

It is being reported in the Irish media that the government is planning yet further savage attacks on the poor and vulnerable. Joan Burton, deputy leader of the Irish Labour Party and Minister for Twisting The Knife, is considering a plan to issue the unemployed with an ultimatum… get a job, or lose your benefits. If there’s one very tiny good thing about this, it’s the fact that the Labour Party are finally abandoning their embarrassing pretence of being concerned with social justice and representing the vulnerable. That they are openly embracing their role as cheerleaders for crony capitalism isn’t particularly helpful, but at least it’s honest.

Joan BurtonThere is something truly obscene about these assaults by the rich and powerful on the poor and powerless. Indeed, it’s increasingly difficult to see government policy as something other than deliberate cruelty. There’s a quasi-sadism to the decisions to hit the poorest hardest and the richest hardly at all. As Joan Burton is chauffeured around Dublin in her ministerial car, is she insulated from the poverty she chooses to inflict upon hundreds of thousands of less fortunate people? Or does she take a certain satisfaction in it? Well, perhaps that’s going a bit far. After all, I suppose that €170k salary buys a lot of insulation. Enough in fact, that she may be completely oblivious to the oblivion into which she is consigning so many of her fellow citizens.

People in the I.T. sector will be told to find a job within 3 months or risk losing state benefits. Everyone else on the dole will have 6 months. At least, that’s the speculation in the press. But given that the story is likely to have arisen from a judicious leak from Burton’s department with the aim of gauging public reaction, there’s every chance it’s pretty accurate.

And it’s important to put this story into context. There are currently 443,200 Irish citizens in receipt of unemployment benefit. In March 2007, just before the economy began to collapse, there were 156,000 people out of work. That’s close to a trebling in less than half a decade. What’s more, although the rate of job losses has slowed and the number fell slightly in December (by 3,300), the trend is still upwards with more people being laid off than are finding work. This is no surprise really, given that the most recent available figures (for the third quarter of last year) show a drop in the number of jobs being advertised.

And those numbers are made look better than they actually are by a net emigration of 34,100 people last year. Though of course, our Finance Minister cynically – and some might say, contemptuously – suggests that Irish emigration is “free choice of lifestyle” and has little to do with the economic collapse and resultant unemployment… which is weird given the massive net immigration that Ireland experienced during the boom years. Anyone would think he’s just making up offensive nonsense rather than facing reality and accepting responsibility for the failed policies of his government.

In fact, it seems to me that if anyone should have a deadline set, it should be the people who promised to solve the mess and are paid massive salaries to do so. How about we give Joan Burton and Michael Noonan 3 months to create 100,000 jobs or risk losing their ministerial pensions? I mean, if putting people under extreme stress by threatening them with poverty is likely to make them more effective at finding a job, then I’m sure it’ll be just as effective at doing a job properly. Or does it only work with the already poor?

And even though it’s a bit of a tangent, can I also remind you, dear reader, that it was Joan Burton who recently decided to hire a spin doctor on a €128k salary (a former Labour Party adviser and friend of the minister). This is despite the government announcing – soon after they took office in a fanfare of “we’re here to clean up politics” – a salary cap of €93k for private advisers. Burton defended her decision to breach the salary cap by €35k (a figure that by itself is more than the average national wage) by insisting that her new spin doctor had been earning more than that in the private sector. Also, he possesses “exceptional skills”, apparently. In a climate where teachers, doctors and nurses are being cut from front-line services one is forced to wonder how Joan Burton has the cheek to place her public relations brief above the educational needs and physical welfare of Irish citizens.

But hey, maybe that’s the plan for the unemployed masses she’s threatening with extreme poverty… if you don’t find a job within your allotted time, I’ll pay you €128k to say nice things about me to the press.

So, to summarise, Ireland is a nation that is currently shedding more jobs than it is creating. It is a nation in which the number of available jobs is actually shrinking, not expanding. On top of that, every independent analyst of note is predicting 2012 will be a year of significant global recession. And yet, Joan Burton and the Irish Labour Party are considering driving anyone who fails to find a job within an arbitrary time scale into severe poverty. Or overseas. Indeed, it’s already been suggested that this is essentially a strategy being employed by the Labour Party to try and push the poor out of the country.

Quite who they think is going to vote for them once they have deliberately driven out or impoverished their traditional voters is anyone’s guess. Perhaps they’ve bet the Irish Green Party that they can produce an even more spectacular electoral meltdown than they managed. Who knows?

Of course, the timing of this announcement is interesting… just after our IMF / ECB / EC puppet-masters have left the country. I suspect Bruton is actually acting on instruction from her bosses in the troika. And let’s be realistic, it’s too much to expect a Labour minister to put her people or her principles before her pay-packet.

Posted in: Opinion