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Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Opinion Enda and Co have done a great thing for the Irish people – they have made us aware.

We have woken up to the fact that, just because our parents or grandparents voted for a certain party, that maybe – just maybe – that party isn’t what we should be voting for.

AMID ALL THE flak he is getting and the low ratings in the opinion polls, despite the protests and name calling, Enda Kenny and his government and have done a wonderful thing for the Irish people. They have made us aware. They have woken us up to the fact that we have a voice, that even if we don’t succeed, the people of Ireland can make themselves known.

Perhaps, though, the greatest thing this Government has done is make the people of Ireland interested in what happens in the Dail. Many, like me, won’t or can’t undertstand the finer workings of government; many like me can’t understand the Troika and how it helps or hinders our economic situation, apart from thinking that ‘Troika’ sounds slightly Stalinist. We have also woken up to the fact that, just because our parents or grandparents voted for such a party that maybe – just maybe – that party isn’t what we should be voting for.

In March 2011 Fine Gael/Labour came to power. I didn’t think the good times were coming back, but having at the time just recently lost a job I loved, I thought a change from the party who created the mess was a good thing. The recovery would be slow, yes, it would be painful – but we would get there, our new government wasn’t going to shaft us the way Fianna Fail had.

Our healthcare system is constantly undermined by government 

Like the UK, Ireland’s healthcare system is, or should be, a beautiful thing. It should be the envy of the world. I’m not saying we have greater facilities than every other country, but a person can get sick here and not leave hospital millions of euro in debt. The first question on being admitted to hospital here isn’t “can you afford it?”. They are much maligned but the majority of doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff in this country are absolutely amazing.

And yet, our healthcare system is constantly being crushed and undermined by our politicians. From the mess with medical cards earlier in the year, where the HSE asked one family if their child still had Downs Syndrome to families raising money for children to have operations in America because it can’t be paid for by the HSE. I know of a family who had to raise €60,000 so their daughter could have an operation in the US, an operation which more than likely meant that in years to come the child would not have to rely on the State through disability payments.

Before he was elected, Enda Kenny pledged that Roscommon hospital would not lose its Emergency Department facilities. Recently a fatal collision occured five miles from Roscommon town. One person died, three survived. The survivors were bought to hospitals in Mullingar, Sligo and Galway, because Roscommon lost its Emergency Department on 5 July 2011. Earlier this year, a motorcyclist died in Portlaoise; despite being just a mile from the hospital it was 40 minutes before an ambulance arrived from Carlow, all due to sick and maternity leave not being covered.

If you have mental illness and go to your GP there is every likelihood that, unless your GP thinks you a danger to yourself or others and seeks to admit you immediately, you will not bee seen by a psychiatrist for anything up to four months.

High unemployment hasn’t gone away

We still have massive unemployment, something where the figures are nicely massaged by the JobBridge scheme. A scheme devised to get people off the live register and into paid employment, by making them serve as interns for six to nine months. Instead, what employers get is free labour, while the employee knows they are going in to a position they have very little chance of keeping. The Taoiseach’s office durng this time has had 260 interns. None have been offered positions.

In March 2012, I started work for an a company. As I started, another man had two weeks left. He was an intern who had been doing the job I was emloyed to do – and, until I started, he thought the job was his. During my time there, the company let two people go, and even before they had left, advertised for interns to replace them. Look through Intreo website and you will see jobs for intern coal yard workers, intern deli staff. I’m not dismissing these jobs, but it does not take six to nine months to learn how to do them.

We have a nation at the moment up in arms over water meters, another thing pre-March 2011 we were told wasn’t going to happen under Mr Kenny’s watch. And yet here we are with meters being installed outside every house in Ireland. Even I admit that while water is free, how it gets to our taps isn’t. We need the infrastructure for it to get there, and that needs to be paid for, but we’ve already been paying tax for that to happen. A percentage of our motor tax, for example, goes into paying for it. In parts of the country water has to be boiled before it can be used for brushing teeth, let alone drinking.

One TD, now an MEP, posted a picture of a glass of water from his area, and rightly called it “piss”. The government expects us not once, but twice, to pay for undrinkable poison. Mr Kenny threatened if we don’t pay for water there will be cuts to child benefit. It’s easy hit the poorest in society. If only we could hit billionaire tax exiles. I guess, though, unemployed mothers don’t contribute to party coffers like billionaires, and there is also little chance of an unemployed mother employing a politician once their political career is finished.

The biggest disgrace of all

Talk of the poorest in society brings me to the very poorest, the disenchanted, those with little, if any, voice. We live in a society where we know how many unemployed there are, we know how many people on hospital waiting lists, how many people are in our prisons – but we can’t give precise details for how many people in this country are homeless.

How many families will be sleeping in cars or shelters or, worse, on the streets tonight? This is the big disgrace in our country. I open my bedroom curtains every morning and behind our house is a council estate, the house right behind ours is boarded up. Not far from where I live is one of Ireland’s many ghost estates, this one is being demolished – in fact, as I write it is probably gone. I’m sure there are “economic reasons” for these houses to be knocked, but it’s not humane, it’s not just, it’s not moral.

If you take the time to talk to someone involved in a homeless charity, many will tell you it’s not drugs, or drink, domestic abuse or runaways that are the biggest causes of homelessness, many will tell you the biggest cause of homelessness is Joan Burton and the department of Social Protection (a deeply ironic name, I think).

Each budget they have trumpeted the fact that there have been no welfare cuts, but have sneakily been reducing the maximum value of property people can rent. A landlord might take one cut, or two, but having to cut rent year on year? People who thought they were renting their house maybe for life, who had made it a home find they can no longer afford it. That is what this government has done, they have cost people their homes and their property. Things people struggled to save for and buy have been lost because they now have nowhere for them. Once they lose their home, where do they go? If evicted because they have no couldn’t afford their rent, where do they get the deposit for the next place? Indeed, even if they had it, what can they afford?

This is Ireland 2014, a country where hopefully the people can see what is wrong, can see that change is needed. I’m not endorsing any party, but maybe – just maybe – it’s time for all of us to think carefully who we give our votes to in the next election, and not just give them to a certain party because that’s the way it’s been for generations in your family. More than that, though, maybe it’s time for the men and women in our council chambers, the Dail, and the Senate, to take stock and see that our stunningly beautiful little island isn’t working as it should be.

Mark Farrell lives in Kildare with his wife, Carrie, and their dogs.

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