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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.

@stephie08

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Marriage is not Equality: Thoughts on #MarRef from a worried radical queer

Posted on

This article is based heavily on the script for the 15/05/15 episode of my radio show, 30 km/s, which airs live online every 2 weeks on www.subcity.org

I also recommend reading this compilation of writings put out by Aidan Rowe, one of the many people in Ireland eloquently providing a radical critique of the very concept of marriage equality, as well as other real problems with the Referendum campaign, from an anarchist-queer perspective.

It’s been with interest and trepidation that I’ve been observing the campaign for the Marriage Referendum from afar, desperately wanting to be there. Between the overt homophobic abuse spouted by the ‘No’ campaign and the rather horrid effect of single-issue liberal politics and policing of identity from the mainstream, acceptable parts of the so-called ‘Gay’ community, I’ve felt quite homesick for Dublin, where I lived for 11 years.

While I’ve resided in Glasgow for the past couple of years, I came out as a trans woman and a lesbian, and began transitioning, in Ireland. I was heavily involved in the LGBTQ community/ies, both with the mainstream and the more radical elements. I’ve been a member of numerous LGBTQ organisations, such as TENI, and the late Queer Spraoi and PinC, and was the content editor for the defunct BoLT magazine, a magazine by and for LGBTQ women and trans people of all genders. I am still a strong part of the community with numerous bonds of friendship and solidarity with my LGBTQ friends living there, and I try to make it over at least a few times a year (especially for my fave Pride festival, Northwest Pride, when I can manage it!).

However, I feel the referendum has brought out some of the worst aspects of Irish society, both the homophobic, bigoted, misogynistic right-wing elements (church-led and otherwise) as well as the assimilationist, clean-cut ‘we are just like you’ part of the gay community, which seems more focused on adapting to a cishet norm than actually fighting for queers in the streets. To the extent of advising people to call the police on LGBTQ people who take down and vandalise the homophobic posters put up by the No campaign.

Let’s start with the basics. If you’re in Ireland, do I think you should vote yes, no, or abstain?

Vote yes. Clearly. Obviously.

Voting no is simply objectionable. Voting yes grants LGBTQ people rights that we should already have. If you’re a particularly politically minded LGBTQ person, abstaining should not be an option, considering the rather ghastly politics that make up the No side, from the homophobic and misogynistic Iona Institute to other typical right-wing, antifeminist elements in Irish society. And for many people, the rights granted are crucial and life saving: Adoption, citizenship, visitation rights in hospital, etcetera are all sorely needed. The state declaring that same-sex relationships are equal in the eyes of the law can have a strong effect on other parts of society as well.

Are we cool on that? Because from this point on, things get complicated.

Let’s start with the institution of marriage. If you’re in love, committing to someone for life, if that’s what you’re both into, that’s rad! Go ahead and do it, more power to you. But why do we need the state to get involved?

On a practical level, the issues around rights I’ve highlighted above are an obvious answer. But I ask you to take a step back and ask yourself: Why does citizenship depend on marriage? The fact of the matter is, historically, the state are heavily invested in regulating who comes and goes from their countries, and how family units are organised -a cursory look at the last 30 years of Irish history is proof of this. At different points in history, states will encourage immigration or discourage it through policies as well as promoting xenophobia, like we have seen in recent years. So I pose another question: why are our rights limited by whether or not we get access to a specific state-sanctioned form of relationship? What if we need those rights but we do not want the state involved in our affairs? What about the other things we have a right to but are often marginalised in? Housing and homelessness, unemployment, poverty, which studies in Ireland, the United States and UK show LGBTQ people overrepresented in those categories in proportion to the general population? Not to mention many other areas of discrimination in every day life I couldn’t hope to cover. Check out the following studies and reports that show marriage isn’t the only, or even the central, issue:

Ireland

List of publications by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (I couldn’t link just one they’re all bloody important)

United States

Injustice at Every Turn – A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey

New Patterns of Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community

UK

An Examination of Poverty and Sexual Orientation in the UK

Debunking the ‘Pink Pound’ – LGBT Poverty and Place in Scotland

One answer is that marriage equality is something that is achievable within our lifetime. All of your radical ideas about no borders, abolishing capitalism, etcetera, are all well and good, but they are unrealistic and impossible to achieve, the argument goes.

But let me ask you: would we have gotten to where we are now in terms of achieving same-sex marriage in many countries, if people had not fought for that specifically? The interesting thing is that back in the late 60s, when queens and dykes and faggots were being beaten up by police in New York, incarcerated and abused in my native Argentina, when the revolutionary voices of Stonewall and so many other places rose up, were they calling for a seat at the table of mainstream acceptability? Were they asking for marriage equality?

No. They were saying the table rests on the back of people like us. the poor. the disabled. the ones who are not acceptable faces of a marriage campaign. The migrants, the sex workers, the people of colour, the people with mental health issues and physical disabilities. Not to mention the majority of people who live in poverty. In the face of this, Gay Liberation was a call to arms for us who were considered deviant by society due to breaking gender and sexual norms, for us to reform society from the ground up for a radical concept of equality. Not equality based on a single law, a single yes or no question, but rather on true equality for all.

My problem isn’t with marriage per se, but marriage does not exist in a vacuum. The fact is that same-sex marriage will change absolutely nothing for 99% of queers I know. I accept that is a biased sample, but most of the LGBTQ people I know fall under one of the many following categories: Disabled with either physical or mental disabilities; people of colour; survivors of abuse; migrants; with experience of homelessness; sex workers.

What does marriage do for us? We are poor. We are kicked out of welfare systems designed to keep us in poverty. Trans people are frequently targeted to be kicked out of social welfare system due to conflicting documentation.

We have an asylum system in both the UK and Ireland that is despicable in its utter dehumanisation of people. And if you add to that the extra scrutiny afforded to LGBTQ asylum seekers, the picture is grim.

Sex workers struggle with the violence of a state that will deny the right of vulnerable people to try to make a living, often in really difficult situations.

Racism in Ireland and the UK is an everyday occurrence, as is xenophobia, ableism, misogyny.

And let us not forget the elephant in the room: how marriage equality does nothing for those members of the LGBTQ community that need an abortion and are not able to get one in Ireland.

We can’t address all of those issues at once, of course. But is ticking ‘yes’ on a box all we can really do? Is our political imagination so constrained? Why must we accept reducing everything we are and all we live and suffer through to whether this referendum passes?

Here’s where the rub comes in for me: the famous saying that a society or community can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. Let’s not kid ourselves: the Irish LGBTQ community as a whole has an appalling record in this regard. Racism, misogyny, ableism, and even transphobia have been rampant and unchecked for a long time within it, and not enough has been done to fight this. The mainstream LGBTQ community does precious little work for asylum seekers and people of colour. There’s virtually no campaigning around LGBTQ people with disabilities and/or in poverty.

So, with all of these issues, I have more questions to ask: Why are we campaigning for marriage now, instead of working to help the vulnerable sectors of the LGBTQ community in Ireland? Where is the money coming from for all the signs, vans, etcetera? And after the referendum, if it’s a Yes, where will all that money, energy, door-to-door canvassing, go to? If Ireland follows precedent, all that political mobilisation will vanish overnight. If we’re lucky, it will help mobilise for gender recognition for trans people as it did in Argentina, but even that will not fix all the other problems I’ve mentioned.

The fact of the matter is that marriage, in general, is a reform that is easy to attain and does not disturb the capitalist, patriarchal status quo. Marriage has always been, from the point of view of the state, about organising workers and property, determining who lives where and how. It is not a revolutionary institution and it will not bring about the change the most vulnerable LGBTQ people in Ireland sorely need.

Will the money and huge organising energy from the Yes campaign go to campaigns to abolish the direct provision system? Will money be raised by the big orgs to help out LGBTQ asylum seekers? What about campaigns to help improve the standard of living in local communities?

Ireland has a chance in this regard, because in all other countries, once they got what they wanted, these campaigns disbanded. They didn’t mobilise the LGBTQ communities over which they have so much sway to fight poverty, police violence, or for the decriminalisation of sex work. The system of global capital will still stand. Will the Yes campaigners stand with us?

Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, complain about teachers.

Those who can, teach. Those who can’t, complain about teachers.

The Irish media has been clamouring to give voice to beleaguered parents and concerned citizens condemning today’s teachers’ strike. Some of those commenting on the ASTI and TUI decision to picket seem to be under the impression that teachers are just obstreperous babysitters who live a cosseted existence, overpaid and underworked, doing an easy job that a monkey could do in their sleep – except these monkeys are particularly greedy. The reality of this couldn’t be further from the truth and there is far more to teaching than standing in front of a classroom from one end of the day to the next.

Teaching is a profession that’s viewed with an almost unique level of disdain in some quarters. The phrase “those who can’t do, teach” might be used in a self-deprecating manner by some teachers but it’s something that genuinely appears be the core mind-set underpinning the criticisms of the strike. Texts are being read out on Newstalk from critics saying “these teachers are only afraid of doing more work with no extra pay,” as if teachers should be martyring themselves and teaching for free, for the pure love of imparting their knowledge to students, as if instilling a love of learning in pupils should be reward enough in itself. It’s probably only teachers and nurses that are consistently faced with the attitude that serving others should be compensation enough and it’s no coincidence that it’s a female-dominated professions that bring out comments such as that. The Minister herself isn’t immune from subtly making that same criticism, even though the strike isn’t actually about the rate of teachers pay. But even if it was, who could blame them? Why should teachers do more work for no extra pay?

Reform of the Junior Cert is badly needed. Students who are 15 years old shouldn’t be faced with exams of that intensity. The only thing I even remember about my own Junior Cert is that I bluffed my way through the English Paper 1 and wrote an essay that had something to do with Paul Weller and me on bikes in Drogheda, that a bottle of Sunny Delight leaked in my bag during the history exam, and that the horror of the whole exam experience provoked an episode of insomnia and sleeping difficulties that I’ve never fully shaken off.

Everyone agrees that the JC needs radical changes, and the elements of project work and continual assessment that are being incorporated should be welcomed. But when the people who are being expected to implement these reforms object on the basis that there is no best practice or evidence to support the claims being made by the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, and further that there are issues around the resources being given to support them to implement the reforms, then they should be listened to. No matter how much a media and public given to teacher bashing would like to paint this as ultimately being a pay dispute, the crux of the strike is about who actually marks the Junior Cert papers. The Minister for Education allegedly believes teachers marking their own pupils is, educationally speaking, best practice for students. The Minister has moved from saying that internal marking 100% of the time is best, to saying that 40% internal marking will do, for the purposes of getting the reforms through. It’s unclear how much money will be saved in not paying other teachers to mark the junior cert papers but it’s a substantial amount given the sheer number of students involved, and the research or evidence that the Minister is basing her claims on hasn’t appeared thus far.

There are clearly difficulties in Ireland in making teachers mark the papers of their own pupils in a high stakes exam. That’s not to say that teachers are unable to mark the papers in the same way they would with other exams and tests they set for their classes, but to point out the difficulties that present in a state where schools are controlled by completely unaccountable boards of management and very often securing employment is based on who you know. There are teachers in Ireland who are as precariously employed as a person working in McDonalds on a temporary contract because they can’t get anything other than covering someone else’s maternity leave, and then four hours a week subbing when that teacher returns to their permanent post. Teachers may not cave to pressure in exam marking, but they will certainly come under it. In many cases, the students’ marks will be as high stakes for the teachers as the students themselves.

Teachers might not actively attempt to mark students unfairly (although I wouldn’t afford the benefit of that particular doubt to the teacher I had for Junior Cert geography) but there is evidence to suggest that teachers can be influenced by irrelevant factors in marking such as gender, socio-economic background, effort and behaviour of pupils. They are only human. Many teachers are now engaging in what could more accurately described as crowd control rather than education as a result of consistent severe cutbacks to school budgets and resources by this government. It is completely unreasonable to expect them to teach their class and mark their own students’ exams in an unbiased manner while not being offered adequate training to carry out what is envisaged in the marking scheme, or even enough training to actually deliver reforms to the curricula that they actually agree with; Not to mention that teachers will be expected to continue doing all of the extra-curricular work they do for free, like teaching the choir, or coaching the camogie team, or giving extra-lessons to struggling students in their own time while being continually demoralised by a government that doesn’t value what they do.

The Minister is quick to point out how other states assess students at that level fully through internally marked exams, but they are different school systems. The 26 Counties has one of the highest pupil-teacher ratios in the EU. Thousands of students spend the duration of their school life in cold, damp, mouldy prefab buildings. There are teachers who have never taught in anything else. Schools have had 1% cuts to capitation grants every year for the past three years while pupil numbers have increased. More students with special needs assistants are attending mainstream schools than ever before, so the Department of Education changed the rules to make it harder for them to get special needs assistants to support them in the classroom. Qualified special needs assistants were let go and some replaced with Jobbridge interns. The Department recognised that there are high levels of mental health issues among students in schools and introduced suicide prevention guidelines. However they took away guidance counsellors in schools with under 500 pupils who have ordinarily supported students with anxiety and mental health difficulties, leaving teachers to fill this role. Teachers who can’t secure permanent positions are told to apply for Jobbridge internships and do the same job as their peers for their unemployment benefit plus €50 extra a week. Schools make up the funding shortfall by increasing the so-called “voluntary” contribution that parents must pay. Teachers then have to deal with stressed parents who cannot afford to pay this because the Credit Union won’t lend them anymore money or because St. Vincent de Paul have already paid their electricity bill for them this month and they can’t ask for more.

This is what our teachers deal with on top of teaching. It would benefit us all to recognise the importance of their work and the pressure that they are under right now, and for the government to address the decimation they’ve inflicted on the education system before they go introducing a new system based on research that may or may not exist, that they in no way have the capacity to deliver. This is why we should support the teachers’ strike  – despite the media driven hysteria.

Leo Varadkar’s World; Where men are men and women are grateful

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar, in a shining example of how to make friends and influence people, excelled himself with his comments indicating that some women may have to give up their jobs in order to avail of the new personal insolvency service.  The TD’s comments were picked up in The Irish Examiner;

I know one or two women who probably don’t make very much money at all from working, but they do it to keep their position on the career ladder, if you like, and that is a legitimate thing to do.

“But if you can’t pay your mortgage as a result, or buy your groceries as a result, then that is something that needs to be taken into account in any insolvency arrangement.

“Nobody is asking anybody to give up their jobs. What is going to happen is that people are going to come forward, they are going to say ‘I can’t pay my debts, I can’t pay my mortgage’, and in that case, the insolvency practitioner will go through with them why they can’t pay their bills, and obviously a creditor is not going to agree to a writedown unless that has been gone through and they can work out what is the most they can pay.”

We all know two income families where there are women working, and realistically they might be just about breaking even due to the cost of childcare. The outrageous cost of childcare is due to the fact that the Government have failed utterly in ensuring a state childcare system that is affordable and accessible for women or dare I say it, state-funded through an equitable taxation system and free to avail of.

Parents do not enjoy paying out the price of a mortgage to have someone mind their children, but they do it because they have to. They think “My child will be in school when they’re 4 or 5, this is hard but it’s only for a few years.” Working mothers will often add on a bit to the end of that sentence, “…this is hard but it’s only for a few years, and at least I’ll still have my job at the end.”

The implication of Varadkar’s comments are clearly that women in those situations where it may be a short-term cost to work should give up their jobs in order to avail of the personal insolvency arrangements. There is no other way of interpreting it.

And make no mistake about it he means women and women only should give up their jobs. Women for the most part earn less than men and it is they who should sacrifice their careers in order to save the family home. If they don’t do this, they can’t partake in the system and if the bank succeeds in having the home repossessed, well it’s Mammy’s fault because that selfish bitch wouldn’t give up her job. Dear Women, Leo Varadkar wants you to pull your socks up and get on with the hoovering because you have no business in trying to make your way in the workplace. That’s man stuff.

The problem with the new personal insolvency arrangements is that they’re wholly inadequate to deal with the level of distressed mortgages and personal indebtedness across the state anyway, so the number of people who will enter them will be limited to say the least. Most women and working mothers who are in debt now, are going to carry on being in debt and no amount of Varadkar’s nauseatingly nonsensical comments will change that.

But in Deputy Leo Varadkar’s world, women after giving up their engagement ring and then sacrificing their jobs because of childcare costs will enter an arrangement with the bank in which they’ll rearrange their debts and mortgage payments. Their children will go to school eventually and they’ll be told to go back to work. Except now there are no jobs so they’ll be dependent on their partner (if they still have a job) or social welfare payments or the kindness of St. Vincent de Paul, because if there’s one thing that Varadkar obviously doesn’t understand, it’s the difficulty that exists for women in attempting to re-enter the workplace after a prolonged absence. The Government is too busy bailing out banks instead of setting about creating jobs, or heaven forbid, doing a fundamental overhaul of how society is structured.

What this demonstrates is how women and women-focused issues are deemed completely irrelevant to the discourse around indebtedness, employment, and even motherhood in Ireland. Who cares if the childcare cost is arguably temporary and leaving her job contains a risk that may result in not getting another job a few years down the road? Who cares that nobody wants to acknowledge that childrearing is a form of labour? Who cares that women are expected to be responsible for childrearing, housework and labour outside of the home? Who cares that it costs up to €2,000 a month to put two children in a crèche? Certainly not the good and the great of Fine Gael.

Nevertheless the focus on women becomes very important when it comes to laying the blame at someone’s door. Just like working class single Mams have been demonised for having children and blamed for their lot of poverty since time began, indebted Mams will now be demonised for not giving up their jobs and sacrificing the family home, or alternatively giving up their job and then being unemployed when their children go to school. Realistically, who is going to stay working when the roof over their head is at risk? One would suspect it’s very few.

For women it’s a lose-lose situation. This is part of a strategy designed to make women work within the home for free to enable men to work outside it for payment. For a State that supposedly extols motherhood and deplores the fact that the reason most Irish women have abortions is because they do not have the financial means to raise children, it’s a particularly peculiar way to act.

Leo Varadkar’s attitude is like something out of an episode of Mad Men, envisioning a world where men are men and women are grateful, but perhaps the women of Dublin West won’t be so grateful at the polling stations during the next general election and if the men had any sense they won’t be so grateful either.