The Irish news media has spent much of the last week focusing on the issue of homelessness following the dreadfully sad passing of Jonathan Corrie, a forty-three year man found dead in a doorway just meters away from Leinster House, the building housing Oireachtas na hÉireann. Unfortunately much of the reporting has been at the shallow end of the analytical pool as has been the government response, more concerned with rhetoric and PR stunts than any substantive long-term changes. The issue of homelessness is symptomatic of far greater social and economic problems in Irish society, problems stemming from the ideologically-driven, centre-right policies of our major political parties. From a recent report by Norma Costello in Vice:
“Food banks pop up like melanomas on a sick society. Last week, Ireland opened a giant food bank to cope with the 600,000 people living in food poverty. According to data on Material Deprivation published by the European Commission, Ireland comes in at number three on the list of most deprived countries in the EU-15, just after Greece and Italy [ASF: EU-15 nations are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Britain]. This means that one million people, or 28 percent of the Irish population, struggle to provide themselves with heat, shelter, food, and bills.
Bia, Ireland’s first giant food distribution hub, was launched last Friday in Munster. What makes it different is that, rather than a community response to a failing state, Bia comes with state backing—almost $330,000 of backing from the Department of Social Protection over the next three years. Joan Burton, Ireland’s minister for Social Protection and Leader of the Irish Labour Party, opened the center, to little media attention.
It’s in this climate that charities like St Vincent de Paul and Crosscare struggle to carry out the gargantuan task of providing the homeless, working poor, and those on welfare with supplies that will see them through the cold Irish winter.
Rose Sinclair-Doyle, 44, is a final-year art school student and mother of two from Tallaght, south Dublin. She has recently started to use the new community food bank to feed her family. “People never think it could happen to them,” she said. “I’ve been living under austerity for years, but it was only when my daughter moved back home with her two kids that the money just couldn’t stretch to feed us all.”
Rose now collects a weekly voucher that entitles her and her family to a set amount of food worth $98. Previously, she was the only income in the house, receiving a Back to Education Allowance that gave her $231 a week. After paying her mortgage of $160 a week, Rose, her daughter, and her two grandkids were expected to live on $71 a week, or $17 per person.
But Rose isn’t alone. Students, the unemployed, people on low incomes, and those who racked up massive debt during the economic boom are now starting to depend on Ireland’s new community food banks to feed their families.
It’s impossible to gauge how many unregistered food banks have popped up in Ireland during the recession, but they’ve now become lifelines for a huge chunk of the population.”