The new normal

It’s a beautiful day. The June bank holiday is upon us. The fourth bank holiday since the start of the first restrictions. We got through St Patricks Day, Easter Monday, and the May Bank holiday. We can get through this one. All we need to do is stay home and follow the guidelines.

Liffey 9

None of us knows what lies ahead. So far this has been a surreal year. But as we work through the stages to bring society back to normal, have we given any thought to what that normal should be. Do we really want to go back to the way we were?

Can we, as a nation, build a better society. One where home working is the norm, for those that want it. Where family is respected, where every child is cherished equally. A country where house prices are affordable for those who have the resources to buy and where rents are manageable for those who don’t. A country with good quality housing stock which every citizen can rent from the state, regardless of income, at a fair price, with security of tenure.

Imagine a country with a workable health service. One where waiting lists are short and everyone, regardless of income, is guaranteed treatment when they need it.

Imagine a society where our workers are valued. A society with full employment but on a living wage. Where the employer looks after their staff as well as their shareholders.

At the start of this pandemic, we proved, very quickly, that it is possible to live differently. The old normal has been thrown out. Can we make the new normal better?

The most important lesson for us all from this pandemic is that society cannot function without our nurses, cleaners, shop-workers, bin collectors, post persons, delivery drivers. The list is endless, but we all know who they are. We have been applauding them but now we need to value them.

It is well documented that Ireland has huge inequality in the distribution of wealth. Our so-called full employment (before this pandemic) is a joke. Jobs that don’t pay a living wage should not be classed as full-time employment. Jobs that require a subsidy from the government in the form of FIS or HAP or any other government assistance cannot seriously be regarded as proper employment.  And for any government employee to be eligible for income supplement from another government department is an absolute disgrace.

The most damming of all is the current argument about the Covid-19 payment of €350 per week. I would love to see some of its detractors give up their salary and expenses and try to live on that income level. The government were correct in bringing in the payment. It has saved many families from financial ruin, but they should be careful in how they phase it out. As a nation we bailed out our banks (and Europe’s), now it’s time to bail out our citizens.

As a nation, we should also consider some form of active protest or boycott of those businesses who do not value their staff. Companies making large profits but not paying their staff a living wage and even worse, making deductions from their minimum wage for food and uniforms. If an employer requires its employees to wear a uniform, then the employer should pay for it. Those at the top need to remember that they are kept in that position by the staff under them.

I am going to spend this weekend in my garden and in my friend’s garden, enjoying this beautiful weather. Whatever you do this weekend, stay safe, 2m apart and spare a thought for those who are grieving. 1,639 families in Ireland are missing their loved ones this weekend, 360,089 worldwide. Don’t become one of them. Stay Home, Stay Safe.

Your own front door

This time of year is a favourite of mine.  I love the colours of the leaves as they gradually fade from green to gold and russet.  I love the sound as they crinkle underfoot and the way they flutter in the breeze until they find their resting place in mounds that grow in the nooks and crannies.  My other half loves the splendour of the autumn leaves as they change colour.  He would just prefer if they stayed on the trees and not into our gutters and pathways and walked into the house.  Every year he wages battle with them, brushing them off the driveway and sweeping them away from the front door, where, in fairness, they tend to gather in huge numbers overnight.  Then eventually he gives in and bows to Mother Nature.  He points out that the blanket of leaves on the lawn will die back into the ground and offer nutrients to the grass, ensuring a vibrant green come next Spring.  It’s all part of the cycle of life, he says.  And we soak up the autumn colours and the last of summer sun and prepare ourselves for winter.  The chimney is cleaned and ready for the cold weather and the curtains are drawn each evening once darkness falls.

home cartoon

And my thoughts turn to those in our country who do not have their own front door to close.  Last week in our town we witnessed the allocation of newly built social housing to those that needed it.  It was a momentous occasion, a great day for the key holders and for the officials who oversaw the project.  Problem is, it just wasn’t enough.  The provision of these new units hardly made a dent in the numbers of people who are on the housing lists.

Last December the number of households on Kildare County Council’s housing list was 7,319.

Yet according to the Census 2016 figures, there are 4,650 vacant properties in Kildare.

Not all of these properties may be habitable and they may be a mix of private and public ownership but surely some of these vacant properties could be brought into use to alleviate the housing list.  What is wrong with us as a nation that we have allowed our politicians to continue to pursue a housing policy which has failed nearly 10,000 people with many more due to join their ranks in the coming months?  What is wrong with our politicians that they can stand over these policies and defend them when it has been pointed out to them time and time again that their housing policy has failed totally?  Why don’t they just build houses?  People need a home to call their own.  The workers of this country need homes.  Build social and affordable housing.

Simple.

home cartoon

 

Easter 2018

IMG_2947 (1)As you scurry around buying your spring lamb and new potatoes for Easter Sunday dinner and your chocolate Easter eggs for dessert, spare a thought for those less fortunate.  The current homeless figures were released yesterday.  Nearly 10,000 people in this little republic are homeless and that’s just the ones we know about.   That figure includes 3,755 children.   Our Taoiseach @campaignforleo has finally realised that it is indeed a national emergency.  About time!

What is he going to do about it?

How will our government solve this ongoing emergency to prevent it becoming a catastrophe?

Are they going to take the advice of those who specialise in this area, such as Fr. Peter McVerry?

Are they going to build social and affordable housing?

Or are they going to continue to throw money into the black hole that has become the ‘homeless sector’?

An entire industry has sprung up providing accommodation to the homeless, an extremely profitable industry.  On 25th January my blog ‘Clueless about profiteering from the homeless’ asked when and why our government had abdicated their responsibility to the citizens of this state.  I emailed numerous TD’s and DCC/DRHE with four straightforward questions.  No replies.  No reply from our Housing Minister, no reply from our Taoiseach, no reply from Dublin City Council.   Nearly 10,000 homeless and our government are facilitating the use of private companies to cater for them.  To make profits out of the misery of others.

3,755 children without a home, in a country that is ranked the 14th richest country in the world.  It is disgraceful and immoral.

Easter_Proclamation_of_1916

On Easter Monday we commemorate 102 years since the proclamation was read out on the steps of the GPO.  The proclamation promised ‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’ and promised ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’.

Nearly 10,000 homeless people in Ireland including 3,755 children.

Is this the Ireland they envisaged when they wrote the proclamation?

Happy Easter everyone.

Clueless about profiteering from the homeless

It has been quite a week for revelations about profits to be made from the homeless crises.  Early in the week, we learnt that a company named R&G Administration which manages homeless accommodation for Dublin City Council made a profit of almost €3 million in 2016.  Yes, you read it right, €2,929,045 to be exact.  Jaw-dropping, isn’t it?  TheJournal.ie reported that R&G Administration has a contract with DCC for the upkeep and management of approx. 80 rooms for homeless families in The Bonnington Hotel.  R&G Administration does not own the hotel, it simply maintains these rooms which are separate from the main hotel.  It also operates emergency accommodation on the North Circular Road, again for Dublin City Council.

When did private companies become involved in managing the homeless?  Am I the only one who finds it immoral that anyone could profit from the misery of others.  When did the HSE and the various Councils abdicate their responsibility to look after the homeless?  Who made this decision?  Who in Dublin City Council decided that instead of taking responsibility for the homeless, they would farm that responsibility out to private companies?  What facilities would that €3 million have provided for the homeless?  How many homeless families could they have housed with that €3 million?  And that is pure profit, after-tax profit.  What salaries were paid, what expenses were paid, what allowances put aside for contingencies before the after-tax profit?  Was this decision taken by one person or by committee?

And later in the week, more revelations.  It gets better!  A new hub is due to open next week.  The people that own R&G Administration also own Graray Ltd and Graray Hotels Ltd, both set up in November 2016.   In November 2016 NAMA sold Lynam’s hotel for a reported €6 million.  The Companies Office shows Graray Hotels Ltd are involved in ‘Hotels & Similar Accommodation’ and that Graray Ltd is involved in ‘Buying and selling of own real estate’.  It was reported that in April 2017 Dublin City Council Dublin took out a five-year lease on Lynam’s hotel and undertook the cost of refurbishing it to be used a hub for homeless families.  The hub is due to open next week to house 38 families.  Graray Ltd has been given the contract to run the hub.

There are 15 hubs so far, all managed and run by various well-respected charities with four exceptions.  It has been reported that the exceptions are, Lynam’s, The Bram Stoker Hotel in Clontarf, The Townhouse on Gardiner Street and the Viking Lodge on Francis Street which are run by private companies.  Dublin City Council had already stated that Lynam’s will be run by Graray Ltd.  Who runs the others?  When was the decision taken to award contracts to private companies to manage the hubs for the homeless?  Who made that decision?  How were those contracts awarded?  Was there an open tender process?  Maybe it’s just me, but who in their right minds could possibly think that it is right, just or moral to facilitate anyone making lucrative profits from those less fortunate in our society.

Have a look at the HSE website where it states, ‘The HSE Homeless Services oversee and manage a range of services and supports.  There are provided through outreach specialist services and specialised teams and individuals.  They are contracted through the voluntary sector, to deliver services on behalf of the HSE to service users from diverse groups.’ (http://www.hse.ie/eng/about/Who/primarycare/socialinclusion/homelessness-and-addiction/homelessness/)

The DRHE website states ‘We work in partnership with a range of voluntary and statutory agencies to implement the Homeless Action Plan Framework for Dublin 2014-2014.  (http://www.homelessdublin.ie/what-we-do).

No mention of private companies on either site.

I have emailed our housing minister Eoghan Murphy and DCC/DRHE amongst others and will let you know what reply I get if any.

Christmas Cheer

It’s that time of year again!  The ideal family Christmas is played out on TV and film.  The adverts stay with us year after year, the Coca-Cola Christmas truck, the ‘Penneys got a whole of things for Christmas’ jingle, the little blond girl eating the cornflakes saying ‘Ho Ho Ho’.  The feelgood movies on TV and the competition for the best TV advert.  Who wins this year, ‘Paddington’ or ‘Kevin the Carrot’?  The pressure mounts to host the best Christmas dinner, to give the best Christmas gift, to be the perfect host or to be the perfect guest.  Newspaper articles and radio broadcasts remind us of the true meaning of Christmas and implore us to disregard the commerciality while at the same time advertising the very products and lifestyle they suggest we disregard.  And who can blame them?  They need to earn a living, same as the rest of us.  How else can they do that but sell the products and the lifestyle we all aspire to.

In Ireland, we have become accustomed to raising a glass at Christmas time to our friends and family who live on foreign shores.  Since famine times our ancestors have left these shores in search of a better way of life.  We at home have toasted them and have missed their presence in our lives.  It was a Christmas morning tradition in our household for my father to make a telephone call to his brother in Canada.  The call was made from my uncle’s house (we didn’t have a phone) and the call was planned and timed, (international phone calls were a considerable expense).  We all stood around the phone in the hall of my uncle’s home singing Merry Christmas, brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins.  My uncle cried into the receiver while singing with us together with his wife and children, all Irish born but Canadian raised.  He hung up, wishing us the very best for all of us, and praying that the year ahead would be the year he would manage to get home for a visit to the land of his birth.

In recent years the world has become a smaller place and our younger emigrants are no longer completely cut off from those they left behind.  Nowadays, with Skype and facetime, we can talk to our loved ones oversees on a regular basis easing the pain of separation slightly but never replacing the physical presence of your offspring or sibling, their scent in your nostrils and their bodily warmth in your arms.  Cheaper travel has meant that our loved ones can now travel home more regularly, or we can visit them in their far-flung homes and admire their new-found way of life.  Do we envy them?  Do we envy their bravery, their get up and go?  Do we envy their lifestyle, their opportunities in the lands they have chosen?  Or do we pray for their return to these shores?  It is this time of year we suffer these mixed emotions. We miss our loved ones and want them with us, but do we really want them to abandon the life they have chosen for themselves?

Even if we could entice them back here with amazing job opportunities and promises of a lifestyle to match, where would they live?  We have a housing crisis.  We are not building enough housing for our already growing population.  And we are certainly not building affordable housing.  It is quite simple really.  In 2016 the average industrial wage was €45,611, p.a., the average house price was €240,000 or €352975 in Dublin (where 39% of the total population live).   How can the average person buy the average house?  He/she can’t.   What? Let them rent, Do I hear you say? let them rent.  The national average monthly rent amounts to €1198, while if you are one of the 39% who lives in the capital, the average rent you will pay amounts to €1774 PER MONTH.  How can you pay that kind of rent on the average wage and save the minimum deposit of €35,297 you need to buy the average house.  Of course, you could move out of Dublin to buy a cheaper home and commute.  You can join the thousands of others who spend 3-4 hours of their day travelling to and from work and pay the extra €200 plus on tolls, and did I mention parking?  Or you could take the train, only an extra expense of €200 to €400 a month depending on how far into the commuter belt you go.  Although don’t expect a seat every journey.   Of course, that is if you are on the average wage.  We have nearly full employment we are told.  But have we?  Are all these employed people on the average wage or, are a large percentage of them on the minimum wage of €18,759 p.a.  According to OECD data, 25.1% of the employed in this country are low paid (earning less than 2/3 of the median income).  How can you pay rent on that wage?  You certainly won’t be considered for a mortgage.  But, I hear you say, if you can’t afford to buy and you can’t afford to rent, the state will house you.  After all, this is the 21st century and we are a first world state who cherish all of its citizens equally, aren’t we?  You would think so, wouldn’t you?  But no, As I write there are 5,524 adults and 3,333 children homeless.  3,333children without a home!  At Christmas.  Think about it.   And it is common knowledge that this is not an accident, this is government policy.  How sick is that?  How far away from the aspirations of those who wrote the proclamation?

A year ago, a group of people took over Apollo House, a derelict building, and within days had established quality, respectful accommodation for homeless people.  Volunteers provided facilities to those people which offered them a degree of respect which officialdom denied them on a regular basis.  Thousands of Irish people reacted and supported Apollo House.  The public showed the government what could be achieved in a short space of time and with minimum expense.  Our government reacted by allowing the residents of Apollo House to be evicted and that building to remain standing a year later, unoccupied, undemolished, a testament to the failure of our government to cherish all citizens of this state equally.

And what about health care?  Our health service is in chaos.  Even with the large salaries, our well-educated emigrants can command, health insurance can only cover whatever our health service can provide.  Those who are accustomed to the high medical insurance costs in America would undoubtedly have no issue with the premiums requested but would expect the same high level of health service provided in America for that cost.  They certainly won’t get that here.  As for those who currently live in Canada!  The Canadians believe in providing universal health care for all their citizens and at an affordable price, a concept we need to learn in this country.

I started writing this blog tonight thinking about the meaning of Christmas in our country and the absence of loved ones at this time of year.  I ended up finding myself thinking about the reasons people leave this island and the reasons we could entice them to return.  I found myself ashamed of this republic.  Our constitution promises to honour all of our citizens equally, but we have failed and failed badly.  Our children continue to emigrate to find a better way of life and who can blame them.  I think I might join them.