Week 6: When are the interests of ordinary people going to come first?
I began week 6 by highlighting to the Taoiseach the difficulty faced by mortgage holders, especially given the new interest rate increases, and more are likely to follow. I enquired if the government might consider mortgage debt relief for those who bought property between 2004 and 2008, rather than just kicking the can down the road with temporary relief. On Wednesday morning (13 April), I challenged Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore about the lack of real concern on the part of Angela Merkel – the person calling the shots – for those countries on the periphery of Europe like Ireland. Now that she is in fear of her own electorate, she is behaving like a good German rather than a good European – a short-term strategy which will be bad for Ireland and Europe in the long-term.
That evening, during the debate on the Education and Training Motion, I addressed the issue of the education cuts which are threatening to have a devastating effect on primary school children all over Ireland:
“It is very worrying that the new Government does not seem interested in reversing the cuts introduced by the previous Government. God knows that the young people who will suffer the most from this are the least culpable for the financial crisis in which we find ourselves. If we do away with resource teachers for travellers and hit learning support and language support teachers over the next few years, this will have a dramatic effect not just on the kids who would have been getting the special attention, but every other kid as well due to the extra load being put on teachers.
The cuts in child benefit have also caused problems for many of these people, because parents would have used some of this money for books, shoes and uniforms, so they are going to suffer a double whammy. It is hardly rocket science. All of the research shows that the investment in youth has to be the best of all. It shows that for every euro spent on a young person the State saves a minimum of €8 before the child becomes an adult. Even if one did not have a social bone in one’s body, it makes good business sense to invest in youth. Saving €24 million in this regards when the visits of Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama will actually cost more simply beggars belief in terms of where our principles lie. The Irish Penal Reform Trust has emphasised the importance of tackling educational disadvantage, instead of throwing money at the results - crime, poverty, addiction and social exclusion. In fairness, if the Government cares at all, this is something that should not happen.”
On Thursday morning (14 April), I spoke on suicide prevention, the divergence of opinion about its causes, and how best to deal with it. I stressed the need for our government to maximise the opportunities for our children to develop into good communicators and healthy individuals, physically and mentally. Hence, the huge importance of reversing the planned cuts to Resource Teachers for Travellers and Language Support Teachers. I raised the same subject on Thursday evening in the Dáil with Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and she seemed sympathetic to the problem.
On Friday evening, I attended a huge demonstration in Clonroche where teachers, parents and children were highlighting the unfairness of the cuts proposed by the new government. When are the interests of the ordinary people going to be put before those of big financial institutions? On Saturday, I had a number of meetings at the Wexford Youths football complex, covering a range of topics – a Go Karting track for kids in New Ross, the prospect of developing sports tourism in Wexford, a meeting with Tina Whelan (principal of Taghmon Primary School) regarding the education cuts, a meeting with Fr. Jim Fegan and Paddy McKiernan about the state of play at Wexford hospital, and a meeting with some people from the Motorway Action Group – Liz James, John Purcell, Tom Ryan, and Tom Rossiter who are not just worried about the nonsense of building a motorway bypassing Wexford in this economic climate, but also the unfairness of selecting a particular route and sterilising the relevant land for that route for years to come, even though it might never be used for that purpose. The NRA and the HSE seem to have something in common, Fr. Fegan and Paddy McKiernan were pointing out the lack of accountability, transparency and fairness in their dealings with the HSE. Wexford General Hospital is essential to a huge disadvantaged population, giving it importance on the basis of need, but it also scores on the basis of merit as it ranks in the top 5 in Ireland in terms of performance. The notion that there might be cuts to its A&E or Maternity units is nothing short of ridiculous and would amount to a crime against the people of Wexford. One suspects that the HSE and the NRA are organisations which have grown too powerful, are self-perpetuating, and too seldom represent the interests of the people. How do they function? Who is making the decisions, and on what basis? are all questions that I intend to research.