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“It is a hate campaign. Never was there a campaign like it coming after a period of austerity.”
— Bernadette Gorman, former social welfare inspector, (Irish Times, May 2017)
Heir-to-the-crown to the far-right-of-Centre party Fine Gael and likely to win the upcoming party leadership contest, existing Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar got his foot in the door first by launching his campaign against the unemployed, on April 18th, with his cutting slogan: 'Welfare cheats cheat us all".
From the sides of double-decker buses (when they turn up), on radio and TV and via the world wide web ("A confidential facility on-line on the Department’s website www.welfare.ie/cheats - where concerns can be reported"), we learn the "cheats" are taking over the asylum-this-country-has-become in its deep delusions since we decided to donate the nation’s resources (an estimate €64 billion plus interest) to bail-out arrogant dishonest bankers and wealthy bondholders. Forget about the elderly people dying on trolleys in overcrowded hospital corridors or families sleeping in the back of cars or in public parks or doorways or on the streets. It is the "cheats" that are the real problem here - up to half a billion euros a year of a problem, the Department of Social Protection told us, before being challenged in their figures by opposition deputies in the Irish Dáil.
"Nothing upsets people more than someone else cheating the system at their expense. That’s why we are launching a new campaign to encourage members of the public to report suspected or known cases of welfare fraud....Members of the public play a vital role as whistleblowers. Last year some 20,800 allegations of alleged social welfare fraud were dealt with by the Department. These are investigated and where warranted, payments are reduced or stopped and, in some cases, claimants are prosecuted. Overall, a range of anti-fraud and control measures in the Department of Social Protection saved taxpayers over €500 million last year.”
An old tune on a beat-up accordion you might think...for those of us who have survived recession after recession here (with the long-term unemployment, low-wage jobs and poverty that accompany it) followed by a temporary boom where the business class (with their friends in power), greedy to use the short window of opportunity before the next crash and crisis, calls out for more profit and cheap labour.
Of course, despite all the right-wing hysteria against welfare recipients stealing their money, unemployed workers will no longer be encouraged with whips...not now, but as the Fabian-socialist Beatrice Webb (22 January 1858 – 30 April 1943) said about the shameful and degrading Workhouses and Poor Laws of the 19th and early 20th century: the whip of poverty...in the right (or wrong hands) is enough. Not a lot has changed.
Minister (and probably soon-to-be Taoiseach) Varadkar wants people to report any knowledge they have; "confidentially". Last year's "cheater" count from the Department: the Department’s Prosecution Service considered some 300 cases of which 194 were referred to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office for "proceedings to issue". A further 160 cases were referred for prosecution to the DPP by the Department’s Special Investigations Unit. With over 1 million people a year in receipt of a welfare "benefit" isn't a large double-decker bus and a big red poster saying 'Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All' not a bit of an exaggeration based on these figures..?
An additional measure, provided for in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill published by the Minister on May 9th, also includes provisions to publish the names, addresses and penalties incurred by people who have been convicted of "welfare fraud." It is expected to be published online, and will be similar to the list of tax defaulters published by the Revenue Commissioners. Andy Warhol, the pop-art guru of the 60's, possibly foresaw this eventuality for the poor in his famous phrase: "In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."
But the campaign, costing almost a mere quarter of a million euros (€200,845.00), has pissed more than a few lazy spongers off (along with their ultra-leftist Trotskyist supporters). 'Mainstream' media like the Irish Times carried reports of dissent in the ranks across the board for this particularly lowlife excuse for a 'social policy'. Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace even launched his own campaign, for two weeks, on 40 Dublin buses: “Vulture Funds Cheat Us All” which he admitted was inspired by the Minister's own campaign.
One former social welfare inspector told the Irish Times the level of fraud was “miniscule” and described the Department’s campaign as “fraudulent advertising”. "Bernadette Gorman described the campaign as 'Tory' and class warfare. 'I do not like the way the department is going. In my book it is all about his aspirations to be leader,' she told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show. 'Those figures on the side of buses are inaccurate. It doesn’t require a sledge hammer to crack a nut.' Ms. Gorman also pointed out that almost 70 per cent of people on social welfare payments were old-age pensioners and the disabled."
Likewise opposition deputies, both right and left, in the country’s parliament attacked the campaign. Fianna Fáil's Deputy Willie O’Dea saying adverts on would-be cheats were “ludicrously childish”.
Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Fein TD for Dublin Mid-West, also challenged the half billion euro figure put out by the Minister and his officials in the Department and stated that the actual amount recouped relating to fraud was far lower: just €41m. "He said that, after examining figures given to him from Mr Varadkar’s department, it appeared the total amount of over-payments to welfare recipients was also much lower than the €500m figure quoted by the minister. He added that it turns out that the figures quoted include estimates of what would have been saved over 52 weeks for some welfare types and 136 weeks in others, rather than what was actually saved. 'These numbers are a joke and a blatant attempt to gain exposure ahead of a leadership race rather than a genuine attempt to tackle fraud,' Mr O’Broin said." (Irish Examiner)
The Minister, like many here at the moment who are concerned at Sinn Féin's meteoric rise as the major opposition party and where it is not unlikely that they will form a government in the near future replied: “Sinn Féin’s opposition to the anti-fraud campaign is unsurprising. It’s central to that party’s strategy to convince their political base that they should get everything for free, and that it should all be paid for by someone else through general taxation. We all know what that means. General taxation is the far-left’s code for higher taxes on the middle class. These are your tax euros that Sinn Féin would happily allow to be squandered on someone else’s waste and fraud, rather than those in genuine need.”
The whole fiasco would make you wonder.
We have had visitors from Iceland here in our TV and Radio studios pointing out that in the enormous rip off involving their own banks' collapse, over 20 bankers have been jailed, whereas in Ireland 3 Anglo Irish bankers were finally found guilty of fraud only last summer, following the estimated €35 billion almost-criminal bailout of that one bank... Not to encourage more social resources to be wasted on the 'prison-industrial complex' but...rather to point out the old cliché...old but tried-and-true...there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. What’s the chance of getting a few dishonest banker's profiles on the sides of Dublin's buses?
Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace:
"The Minister would make a lot more money going after fraud in big business rather than in welfare, but a potential future Taoiseach doesn’t seem to have the same stomach to go after big business."
Time for change - real change - not the cosmetic kind.
Ireland (or the Fine Gael party, rather) is about to choose a new head - but the old poison still afflicts this body the rest of us struggles to survive within.
It is time for a real change.