HOMELESSNESS HAS TO BE THE ELECTION ISSUE

The fastest growing economy in Europe. New jobs being created every week. Cranes once again stalking the Dublin skyline.  Even Dun Laoghaire, poster town of the recession, has an air of recovery about it with new shops opening regularly.  Although many of us will be playing catch up for decades to come, as we try to replace savings and pensions that were decimated in the crash, until recently, I was relieved that the worst seemed to be over.
Micheal Noonan said the emergency is over.  I knew things weren’t perfect.  I was aware of a homeless crisis but thought the government had it in hand with their plans for modular housing as an emergency solution.  I thought we were doing alright, until I watched the recent RTE documentary “My Homeless Family”.  Rarely has a programme made me so angry.
Using their own voices and most poignantly the voices and the tears of their children, these brave women (and it was mainly women) clearly illustrated just who have paid the price for our recovery.  Living in self-described ‘posh prisons or cages’ the pressure being exerted on these families every day is incredible and the documentary made for surprisingly hard viewing. I wondered why and then I realised it was because we were watching ourselves.  These families are every family; just like us they battled to keep their kids amused, they supervised homework and celebrated birthdays in their collapsed tiny worlds.  It could so easily have been any of us.
Lone parent, Erica and her daughter Emily have a bond that is strong and familiar.  I recognised it just I recognised Erica’s fear for the future as she tries her best to provide for her child.  I was a lone parent for ten years and it was only a twist of fate that meant I had a supportive family with room for me and my daughter to live at home until I could afford to move out on my own.  But I know Erica’s dreams. I dreamed them too.  A house we could call our own; where she could have her own bedroom.  Where she could have more space to play.  Where she could invite her friends over after school.  Erica’s pain although sharper was familiar.  I was just lucky.  But I could have easily been in her situation.
The women who generously let us view their lives in an intimate way, instinctively understand that a secure, safe, place to call home is essential to children’s development and to family life.  A home is not just a roof over one’s head and a bed to sleep in, it’s much more.  The writer and essayist, Samuel Johnson said “to be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends, and of which every desire prompts the prosecution”.  How can these families achieve any of their ambitions living in such tiny spaces and with no security of tenure?
Over the coming fortnight we will all be bombarded with how brilliant the Government were in rescuing this country and dragging us back from the brink of disaster.  Yes, they did take control of the finances and restore some order to them.  But the recovery belongs to the people, all of us who suffered cuts to our incomes and increases in our taxes.  Austerity has been very brutal and almost all of us have paid a heavy price. 
But the highest price has been paid by those who are vulnerable; families on very low incomes or social welfare and lone parents. These people, families just like ours have been sacrificed in the name of this recovery.  Families who now have nowhere to call home, through no fault of their own.
The blame for this does not merely lie with the current government.  For decades’ successive governments abandoned the policy of building social houses. Somewhere along the way our Governments went from running a country to merely running an economy. 
For many (not all) involved in politics it’s a game.  It is a game created by men and still dominated by men, with a very male energy running through it and like any game it is all about winning. Keeping your seat at all costs.

But politics is not a game.  It is the art of caring for the people of the country.  The women on My Homeless Family knew that.  Having been stripped of that most basic right in life – a place to call home from which to build proper lives for themselves and their children, they are now doubly disadvantaged.  If this republic means anything, it falls to the rest of us, to be their voice at the election.  Homelessness must be front and centre of the next programme for government.  Otherwise we are all complicit in their misery.

I AM ANGRY – AGAIN

I am writing this on the 26thof June; an auspicious date in Irish history.  It was on the 26th of June in 1963 that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America touched down in Dublin Airport to begin his four day visit to Ireland.  It was also on the 26th of June (1996) that journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered on the Naas Road. A less well known event occurred on the 26th of June 1920 when my maternal grandfather, George Power was involved in the kidnap of a British General who was fishing on the banks of the River Blackwater just outside Fermoy in North Cork. 
All of these events are playing on my mind as I attempt to formulate my thoughts on the revelations contained in the Anglo Tapes which were made public by the Irish Independent last week.  Let me begin by saying that I am angry…. again.
Over the last five years there have been many times I have been angry.  I have watched from my corner of suburbia, without the benefit of a university degree or even much understanding of economics, as this country was brought to her knees and I was angry.  I watched as the previous Government stumbled along through their last days as if punch drunk from the events that seemed to be overwhelming them and I was angry.
Each so called ‘austerity budget’ since has renewed my anger as I witness some of the most vulnerable in our society being stripped of allowances to which they are entitled and which they need in order to live.  I have been angry at how women seem to have borne an unfair portion of this austerity through cuts to carer’s allowance, child benefit, lone parent allowance, tax on maternity benefit etc. 
Almost five years of anger and this week I am angry all over again.  I have spoken to my neighbours, my friends and colleagues and without exception all are furious.  All found listening to the cavalier conversations of some very well paid senior bankers in Anglo Irish Bank as they discussed pulling a master stroke on our Government to be truly nauseating. 
The truth is that they pulled a master stroke on US, the people of this country.  What kind of schools, I wonder, produce this type of caricature of a man – overly macho, arrogant, insensitives who seem to be so removed (or perhaps insulated) from the effects of their irresponsible banking practices.  Their supercilious, self important guffawing turned my stomach. 
As I wrestled to make sense of how Ireland has come to this point in her history I thought of my grandfather, George Power and the ordinary men and women who almost a century ago managed to secure freedom from what was then probably the most powerful empire on earth.  I think of their bravery, of the risks they took in the years leading up to 1922.
I think of the women who ran messages, who operated as undercover agents within the British administration securing vital information for Collins, I think of the people of towns such as Fermoy who were subjected to looting and rioting by British Troops in retaliation for IRA activity.  I think of the families who risked their lives by providing safe houses for men on the run and of how they hid and smuggled arms to keep the push for freedom going forward. 
Last week has also brought the visit of JFK to Ireland in 1963 back into focus with the 50thanniversary celebrations last weekend in New Ross.  President Kennedy made a wonderful speech when he addressed the joint houses of the Oireachtas.  In it he referenced George Bernard Shaw when he said
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
These words are only 50 years old but where the hell is that combination of hope, confidence and imagination now?  Where are these men and women who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?  The men and women who were to the forefront of Ireland’s fight for independence were certainly capable of dreaming of things that never were and must have seemed impossible.  They were surely very antithesis to the lily livered bankers we are hearing on the Anglo tapes.
So how has Ireland gone from a being a nation of courage, imagination and action to a passive place where a cohort of greedy immoral bankers can break us and suffer very little consequences for doing so?  And more importantly why has the anger I sense in the community not translated into action?
Just 17 years ago this country got very angry at the murder in broad daylight of journalist Veronica Guerin.  We got angry and we let the heat of that anger be felt by Government.  Within days action had been taken to seize assets of the criminals and the breaking of criminal gangs began in earnest.  Arrests were made and the search for Veronica’s killers was relentless. 
Veronica Guerin, President Kennedy and George Power and his comrades all knew that (to quote Kennedy again) “problems… cannot be solved by sceptics or cynics of those whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.” 

It is beyond time for clear and imaginative leadership.  I am very unconvinced that such is possible in the current government but the very least we, the people of Ireland, can do is to make our anger felt.  We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our children to insist that action is taken now to prosecute those who gambled our entire country.  I am not sure of how this can best be achieved, no more than those who protested Ms Guerin’s murder dreamed of the Criminal Assets Bureau  .. but that is what we elect and pay our TDs for.  It is our job to ensure it happens.

I Am A Citizen Of This Country And I Am Angry

I am delighted that the Irish Times today published a piece I wrote last Thursday – Black Thursday in Ireland – when the Government finally came clean on more or less how much this bail out of the banks is going to cost us!

I have been overwhelmed with the response I have had – on the Irish Times website and through Twitter.

You can read it here http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2010/1002/1224280160745.html