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#Budget2016: Thatcher would be proud

Use this Feminist Ire Budget Calculator to assess how #Budget2016 affects you!

Are you a multinational company paying little to no corporation tax, or one of the richest people in Ireland? You are? Excellent, then you’ll have even more money.

Are you an ordinary person earning an average wage or a person surviving on social welfare payments? You are? If you’re waged, you may come out with a fiver extra a week but the Government will want it back from you in property tax and water charges, and the increase to minimum wage probably won’t mean much because Labour (the party of work) haven’t done anything about zero hour contracts.

Are you living in your car with your child because you’re scared to go into a homeless hostel? You will get €5 extra in your children’s allowance. NAMA will fund private developers to build houses now but tough shit you’ll never be able to afford it.

Budget 2016 is an exercise in appalling political cynicism. People voted for Labour and Fine Gael because they wanted something different. What they got was years of austerity. Howlin and Noonan were at pains to tell us that this was a pro-family non-austerity budget but it’s just more of the same. The great big giveaway budget we’ve heard so much about means people entitled to fuel allowance will get an extra €2.50 in each payment. Congratulations, that will get you an extra briquette each week, burn it wisely!

The extra €5 a week in child benefit will do nothing to meaningfully address the quality of life that children living in poverty currently have. It is not an investment in children, it’s an investment in electioneering soundbites that members of Labour and Fine Gael will use when they’re dressing up their brutal neoliberal politics as warm and fuzzy family friendly economics.The income disregard of those on JobSeekers Transition Allowance has been increased, but it won’t make much difference to one parent families who are really struggling. You can’t tell people you want to improve families’ lives when you don’t invest in childcare and afterschool care. Two weeks paternity leave is welcome but it is not going to make it easier for women to work.

What tiny increases that have been given are barely fit to call crumbs from the table of the corporate bodies and their private developer mates and landlords who have inflicted utter misery on people in Ireland for decades.  The Government have given a tiny amount to everyone in an effort to buy the election, but not everyone needs a tiny amount. The 1,500 children living in direct provision who receive €9.60 a week- a payment that hasn’t been increased in sixteen years – they need more. The 1,496 children living in emergency accommodation need more. The Traveller families living in dangerous conditions, forgotten and dismissed as if their lives are considered disposable by this Government; they need more.

They are telling us they’re giving  €900m extra for the health service when in real terms it’s about €100m which isn’t even enough to provide the same level of service in 2016. People will still die on trolleys.  They’re allocating the minimum number of extra teachers to cope with increasing numbers of children that are going to school and have the nerve to dress this up as a great policy move. As if providing their bare minimum of teaching staff was a gift to the population of children under twelve, thousands of whom will still attend school in a prefab.

Labour and Fine Gael gave commitments to not raise student contribution fees before the last election. They have raised them to €3,000 and actively pushed students out of education, not to mention how they made it more difficult for students to get grants in the first place a few years ago. They give with one hand and take with the other. There is a vague commitment to invest €3m in the Student Assistance Fund to provide support to struggling students however the exact figure won’t be confirmed until Spring 2016. The number of recipients of SAF monies has gone from 7,681 students in 2009 to 15,166 in 2014 which has resulted in an actual reduction in monies allocated to each student in real terms. The government persist in dressing up paltry sums and tell us that they’re doing vulnerable people a favour.

There’s no increase in the basic rates of social welfare payment or to dole payments to under 26s. I still can’t figure out how those under 26 need to eat less than the rest of us, but I’m all ears if someone in Labour wants to fill me in.

For every euro that the Government has given away in capital gains and corporation tax, it is money taken away from the people that actually need it. It is a shameful insult to the people to tell them that this budget is a good thing when the biggest beneficiaries from it will be the likes of Facebook and Google and other multinationals who’ll be handed even more tax avoidance mechanisms.

The gloating speeches from government benches were stomach churning. That might sound a bit hyperbolic, but there is something genuinely very nauseating about watching Ministers bleat on week in week out about how we could combat bullying in schools, and then they sit and sneer from the government benches. Richard Boyd Barrett only has to stand up for the snide comments to start. If some of Labour suddenly started pelting him with lumps of chewing gum one of these days, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me.

To make it worse, Ministers and their TD colleagues now expect cookies and a pat on the back for allocating €17million to homeless services when they allocated €50million to commemorations. It will take you 57 years to be reached on the housing list? Diddums, wrap yourself in this copy of the Proclamation to keep warm. Your autistic child doesn’t have an SNA? Well that’s too bad, but here have a tricolour instead. There’s always a lot of squabbling among Irish politicos about what the leaders of the Rising would have wanted but you really don’t need to be a genius to know that James Connolly would probably say that ending homelessness would be a more fitting commemoration of the ideals of the Proclamation than this. On the other hand, Margaret Thatcher would find it quite fitting.


Labour’s proposed abortion referendum: Not good enough

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It’s being reported today that the Labour Party plan to fight the next election on the promise of a referendum to allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. Bearing in mind that this is merely a Sunday newspaper report and (to my knowledge) Labour themselves have not confirmed it, here are all the reasons why I would strenuously oppose this move.

It would retain the constitutional anti-choice position as the default position. If this referendum passed, Irish residents would still have to get someone’s approval to have a right to abortion in their own country.  This is unacceptable, particularly coming from a party which paints itself as “pro-choice”.

It would enshrine into (constitutional) law the notion of pregnancy as punishment for sex. Feminists should absolutely reject any distinction in law between a pregnancy resulting from consensual sex and a pregnancy resulting from forced sex. To allow it is to acquiesce to the identification of women’s sexuality with reproduction, and the misogynist trope that choosing abortion is “avoiding responsibility for actions”. It reflects the odious idea that there are innocent Madonnas who can’t be blamed for having sex, and whores who deserve what they get.

It would be a nightmare in practice. You think it was difficult legislating for a “real and substantial risk to life”? Just wait until the troglodytes that write Irish legislation get to decide how to determine whether a rape happened.  As long as Article 40.3.3 remains in place – and by the looks of things, it will – you can be certain the “rape exception” will require a very high burden of proof, and that will inevitably involve a humiliating, (re-)traumatising inquisition. Who would go through that when they could just go to England – or the internet – instead?

It will still exclude the vast majority of crisis pregnancies. While accurate statistics will be impossible to come by as long as we have to go abroad or self-administer our abortions, it’s probably safe to say that relatively few take place because of any of the current or proposed “exceptions”. Most fall into the category that pollsters are now describing as “when the woman believes it’s in her best interest”: a broad category that can cover anything from financial woes, to interference with studies, to domestic problems, to simply not feeling ready to have a child, etc. These are normal reasons and they are valid ones, and they will still be excluded under this proposal – leaving the majority of those who have abortions to remain stigmatised and perhaps criminalised under the law.

It would eliminate the most persuasive argument for repealing Article 40.3.3. We don’t have a pro-choice majority in this country yet, and we may not for a while – but we do have a majority opposed to the strict parameters of Article 40.3.3 (at least, according to every single opinion poll in the past ten years not commissioned by the anti-choice movement). Those parameters could be a strong reason for people to support its repeal even if they aren’t fully on board with the right to choose. To widen the parameters through amendments that carve out exceptions would be to remove the incentive for people who aren’t pro-choice to support repeal. The end result would be a “compromise” that would effectively kill off any hope of actually getting rid of 40.3.3 and establishing a right to abortion in Ireland.

I am aware that a “repeal the 8th” campaign is unlikely to succeed without a guarantee by government that restrictive legislation would follow. And this legislation would have all the same problems I’ve outlined above – which might seem to undermine my whole argument. But restrictive legislation is much easier to deal with than a restrictive constitutional provision. It would be subject to constitutional challenge, and vulnerable to European pressure if the EU and ECtHR come to recognise abortion as a fundamental right (which I believe they eventually will). It could, of course, also be overturned by a progressive future government, though I may be overly optimistic about the possibility of us ever getting that.

I’ve mainly addressed the rape exception here, and I know not all these arguments apply to fatal foetal abnormalities. If the referendum proposal was limited to that I would find it more difficult to argue against (though some of my objections would still hold). I’m also aware that X legislation could equally be opposed on some of the grounds above, but X deals with life-and-death circumstances. I think it’s reasonable to put aside principled and tactical objections to incrementalism where the alternative is that a person actually dies.

And after the farce that the X legislation turned out to be, one thing should be obvious to everyone who supports abortion rights: we will never get anything meaningful as long as 40.3.3 remains. Our legislators will always feel the need to err on the side of protecting the foetus – so even if additional exceptions are carved out, the barriers to availing of them will be prohibitively high to many of those they’re intended to cover. And we’ll be left with a Constitution that further reinforces a value judgment as to who “deserves” an abortion, and less hope than ever of any real change.

The only tenable solution is repeal. We should not stand for anything less.

On Labour Women’s Statement on the EU Fiscal Treaty

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Earlier this month, several female elected representatives of the Labour Party held a press conference and issued a statement calling for a Yes vote in Thursday’s EU Fiscal Treaty referendum. Their message was aimed at women, and Mairead Enright has a good piece here pointing out the tired essentialism in their appeal.

The first thing I thought of when I read this was a poster put up by the Yes side during one of the last referendum campaigns:

I never saw the “Ireland for Europe” group’s explanation of what they meant by this slogan – safer from what? – but the message was pretty clear. It was written in the first person singular, “I” rather than “We”, indicating personal and not collective safety. It featured a woman – can you imagine it featuring a man? – of an age where personal safety is likely to be a matter of significant concern; she is past the fearlessness of youth, but is neither so old that voters see her age before her gender, nor too young for senior women to identify with. In short, she is Everywoman, with the exception only of those women young enough to be targeted in the “young people” category. While the Yes campaign generally traded on fear, it was a peculiarly gendered, intimate type of fear that this poster aimed at instilling.

The Labour Women statement of the current campaign isn’t quite so brazen, but there is still a current of intimate fear running through it. Note, again, the reference to women’s safety in their support for the Treaty:

Joan Burton opened by reminding us that for women a YES vote is the safest option.

There is very little in the statement about what the Treaty will actually do to improve women’s lives – in fact, one of the speakers openly admits to the lack of direct positive consequences of a Yes – but a lot about what might happen if we don’t pass it, which Labour Women threaten could amount to no less than “devastation” for “you and your family”.

As Enright’s post shows, the statement makes a lot of suggestions as to why a Yes vote should appeal to our womanly nature. But it gives only one real concrete reason to vote for it: to get access to European Stability Mechanism funding. Without this funding, it is implied, social welfare will have to be cut, gender inequality will worsen, poverty will increase. Not mentioned is the fact that the Treaty also requires a commitment to the same austerity measures that have already led to social welfare being cut, gender inequality worsening and poverty increasing. Measures which Labour themselves have been implementing in government, through the very woman (Joan Burton, the Social Protection Minister) who opened this press conference.

Labour, of course, were firmly opposed to austerity while in opposition. In her response to the final budget of the previous government, Minister Burton said:

There is enough austerity in today’s announcement by the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, to make even the most ardent Tea Party fan grin in delight. There is pain for the poor, money for the rich, particularly for the bankers, and the rolling back of the State.

What has all the austerity and deflation done for us as a country so far? In more than two and quarter years of austerity, unemployment has risen from 4% to 14%, which is 435,000 people. Austerity has slashed growth, it has killed consumer confidence and turned us into a nation who are busy paying down debt or saving – anything but spending.

We all know about the famous three Rs that are the bedrock of early education. There is another set of three Rs that became the bedrock of economic recovery in the post-Depression era and formed the basis of the post-war politics in Europe, irrespective of the country or party in power. These three Rs are reflation, redistribution and reform. If the Labour Party is in Government after the next election, reflation, redistribution and reform will be what its participation in government will be about.

During the election campaign, plenty more promises like that were made by Labour, and all of them were broken. The three Rs we’ve got from this government have been recession, redundancies and repossessions. When asked to explain this about-face, Labour often responds by blaming the EU-ECB-IMF Troika. Burton again:

I am conscious that the reforms which are on the table may be painful for some in the short-term.

But we are constrained in what we can achieve by the fact that we are living on borrowed money, borrowed money which comes with many conditions attached.

In other words, having loaned Ireland the money it needs to run itself, the IMF and its Troika partners are also dictating how it is spent. The internal Labour line, or so I’ve been told by a party apparatchik, is that the Troika has people with veto power monitoring every government department. Now either that’s not actually true and the Labour/Fine Gael government are implementing these measures of their own accord, or Ireland is part of what can only be deemed an extremely unhealthy relationship of financial dependence, in which the other party controls all the purse strings.

The Labour Women statement, incredibly, implies that the solution to the problems created by this financial dependence is to sign up to more of it. The statement admits that the Treaty won’t bring us jobs, investment and growth, but since Ireland can’t access ESM funds without it, we

depend on this treaty to be passed to have a more secure future

At the end of the day, this is really what it’s all about: “security” is equated with “access to [someone else’s] money”. And to be entirely dependent on someone else’s money but have little control over what we can do with it, that’s not a bad thing. To be making huge sacrifices in a relationship that we’re not getting anything else out of – including things that we really need – that’s not a bad thing either. Forget things like autonomy, self-fulfilment and self-determination; as long as we have that security in our lives, that’s all that matters.

What kind of message does that send to women?