Coalition Troika Hacks Social Protections to Shreds: Who Benefits?

RH, Baile Átha Cliath.

The situation in meat factories and direct provision, the cutting of COVID-19 payments, and Apple’s recent theft all share a common source: the FF/FG/Green coalition’s protection of profits to the detriment of the working class. Although it may be argued that the initial implementation of restrictions due to COVID-19 indicated some level of altruism from Fine Gael when they were in power, this is clearly not the case when given further scrutiny. As stated by James Connolly, “governments in a capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class” – this could not be more true.[i] Not only do Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil only serve the interests of the bourgeoisie in Ireland and abroad, they are perfectly happy to sacrifice the working class’s physical health and economic well-being to do so.

 In July, the second highest court in the European Union found that Apple did not owe the Irish government €13.1 billion, a claim that the Irish government supported.[ii] This is particularly disgraceful, considering that Ireland is now facing a budgetary deficit of €30 billion due to the COVID-19 crisis.[iii]Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have plunged this country into an economic disaster due to their commitment to safeguarding the interests of the global ruling class through their low corporation tax policies. The message is clear: corporations are more than welcome here and nobody higher up will dare demand they pay their fair due like us.

A dark cloud over our heads: the €13.1 billion in back taxes, plus €1.2 billion in rent, is just about enough to fund the HSE for a whole year. Apple was quick to boast it is one of the largest taxpayers worldwide but immediately took pains to stress it will not do so where unnecessary. Ireland, it seems, is a convenient place to do business and it just so happens it will not only refuse to ask for what other countries in the European Union demand, but even help fight it.  

In light of this, when looking at the recent cutting of COVID-19 payments, as well as the spike in cases in meat factories in the Midlands and direct provision, their priorities become clearer. In early March, 17,300 people in Louth were receiving the COVID-19 payment of €350 a week.[iv] This does not even meet the cost of living. By August 18th, it had dropped from 8,000 to 7,000 recipients.[v] This was due to 500 people voluntarily closing their payment (300 on August 11th and 200 on August 18th) while 500 people had their COVID-19 benefit cut in Louth the same week.[vi] Louth is not the only example, given that 28,000 people nationwide have had their payments cut.[vii] This is disgraceful when Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys claims that “[o]ur resources are not unlimited and we need to insure that this money goes to the people and families who generally need it.” She is right, our resources are not unlimited and it’s her own party’s fault for allowing that to occur through the Apple tax scandal, although it must be remembered that Apple is not the only company eager to be paying little to no tax. It is obvious what the coalition government is doing here. Micheál Martin and his cabinet are forcing people out of their homes and back to work to turn a profit for their supporters while trying to keep profits high.

This is even more overt when examining the recent, drastic rise in cases that occurred in the meat factories and direct provision. According to the Chief Medical Officer, 400 of the 1250 cases that arose over the two weeks before the present article was written were linked to meat factories and direct provision. Another 31 of these cases occurred amongst individuals nationwide, 75 cases were linked with outbreaks of a confirmed case or clusters, and 14 were down to “community transmission”.[viii] Not only is a substantial improvement to conditions in direct provision and meat factories urgently required, but so is another period of lockdown. This will likely not occur due to the recent cut in COVID-19 payments, and if it does, the ensuing economic disaster will only be made worse. This is due to FF/FG/Greens’ defense of profit. If they seem careless, it is because an economic crash does not affect us all equally. The wave that sinks the lifeboat only moves the yacht further. While some of us would risk eviction, the moneyed class would welcome the opportunity to consolidate more assets in fewer hands.

…and the big piggy that owned the house the little piggy lives in continued to make money. If the little piggy goes back to work and gets sick, the big piggy will call it selfish and irresponsible. If the little piggy keeps staying home, the big piggy will call it lazy, entitled and needlessly fearful. But that’s easy for the big piggy to say: it’s not the one going to the market!

Three-quarters of meat plants in the Midlands have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19, leading to 300 new cases.[ix]The HSE has been outrageously negligent in its handling of this problem. According to SIPTU, which represents 6,000 workers in the industry, in one of the plants, workers were allowed to return to work before their test results came back.[x] This clearly puts co-workers at risk. Some did not receive their results until four days after being tested.[xi] On paper, the measures were implemented, albeit out of order. In reality, it amounts to little more than security theatre when not followed through adequately. As such, the HSE’s handling of the outbreak in meat factories highlights FF/FG/Green’s prioritisation of profits even further, even if it is to the detriment of the working class. It must be remembered that this is not a criticism of frontline healthcare workers, who are of the utmost value to society. It is a criticism of those running the HSE, i.e. the coalition government.

The suffering undergone by those in Direct Provision also highlights the priorities of the FF/FG government. Direct Provision is privately run, despite originally being a state-led project. People in Direct Provision have suffered immensely during this pandemic. This has been largely exacerbated by the already abhorrent conditions in Direct Provision centres. According to MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland), there were 31 cases of coronavirus alone in the Eyre Powell Centre in Newbridge, where many residents worked in one of the meat factories included in the study mentioned earlier.[xii]To make matters worse, before that article was published, 30 residents in a Direct Provision centre in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry, were forced to go on hunger strike to demand better conditions.[xiii]That centre had 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19.[xiv] Then Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan rejected calls for the centre to be closed, merely offering an apology to the residents instead of material change.[xv] Clearly, the government sided with the owner of the centre in this instance. These people were making a moderate demand of being moved to other Direct Provision centres for their own safety and the government was content to keep it open regardless, protecting the bottom line of the owner.

Who watches the watchmen? In theory, Direct Provision is supposed to oversee the well-being of asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution, not to endanger them or subject them to further humiliation. For FF/FG/Greens, however, they’re not people, they’re placeholders that allow centres to be run as the owners see fit and money to be made out of the public eye.

To conclude, the FF/FG/Green government is only concerned with the welfare of its citizens so long as it does not interfere with profit. They are perfectly happy to let Apple steal just under half of the budgetary deficit from the country. Simultaneously, people are being forced back to work without establishing the proper working conditions, left in abhorrent and unsafe living, while being neglected by the public services that they pay for through tax. It does not have to be this way; history is filled with working class uprisings which have led to a change for the better. Ireland can and should have a similar experience soon. Join the CYM today.

References

[i]. James Connolly, ‘The War Upon the German Nation’, 1914, Marxist.org.

[ii]. Joe Brennan, ‘Ireland wins appeal in €13 billion Apple Tax Case’, the Irish Times, 15/7/2020.

[iii]. Ibid.

[iv]. Michelle O’Keefe, ‘Hundreds in Louth have had their COVID-19 benefit stopped’, Dundalk Democrat, 20/8/2020.

[v]. Ibid.

[vi]. Ibid.

[vii]. Ibid.

[viii]. Ibid.

[ix]. Ciaran Mullooly, ‘Three meat plants hit by virus will not reopen in morning’, 10/08/2020, RTE.ie. 

[x]. Ibid.

[xi]. Ibid.

[xii]. Laura Fletcher, ‘Concern over virus disaster at direct provision centres’, 2/08/2020, RTE.ie.

[xiii]. ‘Residents of Cahersiveen direct provision centre on hunger strike’, 28/07/2020, RTE.ie.

[xiv]. Ibid.

[xv]. Ibid.

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