Post budget blues

After weeks of speculations, the Minister for Finance delivered his verdict, targeting public sector workers, unemployment allowances, children’s allowances, medical card holders, and other recipients of welfare allowances.

Yes, he did reduce public sector workers progressively – some high earners will lose more money, but lower earners will lose more proportionately.

I am not an economist and will not do a detailed analysis of the cuts. But I do want to reflect on the rhetoric of ‘we are all in it together’ and ‘we all must sacrifice’ for the ‘common good’. As Fintan O’Toole showed clearly in his recent book A Ship of Fools, the deep recession Ireland finds itself in, is due to both stupidity and corruption. As the rich became richer – aided by their friends in government – the less well off were somewhat better off during the boom, but also incurred greater debts, being forced to buy over inflated houses and pay over inflated mortgages.
What interests me here, once again, is the complete silence on the position of migrants in the debates about the budget cuts. While the community development sector rightly fought against their foreclosure and against the forced amalgamation with area partnership, the consequences for migrants and migrant-led organisations has not yet been spoken about.

So let’s reiterate. There still are some 6,000 asylum seekers in holding centres, living in limbo and awaiting decision on their residency status. In receipt of bed and board and a paltry allowance, not raised since 2001, asylum seekers are often desperate, often having to resort to a variety of strategies to make ends meet, including, in extreme cases, selling sex to put food on the table. Secondly, a large number of migrants who came here as labour migrants – to fill labour shortages in the construction, hospitality, agricultural and care sectors – now find themselves unemployed, and in many cases undocumented. Organisations catering for homeless people report growing percentages of migrants among their clients. Yet nobody speaks a bout them. Indeed, research has shown that people who formerly were reasonably supportive of migrants, particularly ‘useful’ labour migrants, are now saying they have other problems – migration is no longer on the radar.

Anecdotally, racism is on the increase. From vile online anti-Roma and anti-migrant postings, to the recent finding by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, that Ireland is among the top ten in discrimination against ethnic minorities. 54% of Sub Saharan Africans in Ireland report racial discrimination. Yet no one speaks about it.

Cuts in education, in health, in housing, in training and cuts in allowances such as children’s allowances are all bound to affect migrants, yet no one speaks about it.