Politics

Every little helps, but Mary Lou reckons it’s not helping enough


The Government went down the Tesco route to the tune of more than half a billion last week with its list of measures aimed at taking the sting out of the rising cost of living for people struggling to make ends meet.

Every little helps and all that. More about Tesco later: the supermarket giant figured in Dáil dispatches on Tuesday, but not in a good way.

Back to the Taoiseach, who outlined the highlights for the benefit of the Sinn Féin leader, as if she isn’t disgusted enough with what passes for Government largesse in these inflationary days.

On top of what is due in this year’s budget, the recently introduced extras include a €200 credit on electricity bills, an additional lump sum payment on the fuel allowance, a 20 per cent reduction in bus fares and a lowering of the threshold for the drugs payment scheme. And don’t get Micheál Martin started on the money being poured into building houses.

Not only did Mary Lou McDonald dismiss these efforts as “the bare minimum” which won’t make a dent in people’s problems, she also accused him of “dither and delay”. It’s no good asking hard-pressed taxpayers to wait until the next budget for more substantial cuts and supports.

“Because the house is on fire now, Taoiseach.”

On fire?

This could badly burn Micheál’s bottom line. If the houses go up in flames it would do untold damage to his touchstone principle of “supply, supply, supply”. No wonder Darragh O’Brien, his Minister for Housing, blanched.

The situation is bad enough as it is.

Mary Lou came armed with the results of a flash survey she carried out at the weekend after putting a call out on social media for people to “share” their cost-of-living stories with her.

“And in a matter of hours I received almost 1,000 replies.”

May God bless their keyboards.

Surprised

Mary Lou sounded slightly surprised. Sinn Féin must have been delighted with the response to her Saturday afternoon appeal.

“Stories of hardship and worry pushing families to the edge. So Taoiseach, I want to share some of these with you.”

She mentioned Kieran, Barbara, Amy, Janice, Robert, Eamon and Caoimhe, all of whom got in touch to say how difficult it is to keep going while struggling to pay rent and bills as the cost of living rises.

“And finally, Anna”, who is facing an ESB bill for €400. McDonald read Anna’s comment into the Dáil record: “The Government credit isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. What about the cost of my petrol and my rent?”

And speaking of the Dáil record, a few minutes later Labour leader Alan Kelly scored a not-insignificant first in the history of parliamentary intercourse when he managed to get the word “batsh*t” into the chamber chronicles. He was quoting a HSE official’s opinion of a plan to recruit 10,000 people.

The Ceann Comhairle did not rebuke him because the word is not on the list of banned words as contained in “Salient Rulings of the Chair”. Now we know that “batsh*t” is not classed as unparliamentary language, maybe Mary Lou will be able to employ it against the Taoiseach in their daily jousts, if only for variety’s sake.

Micheál Martin reminded her that Ireland and Europe have not escaped the global surge in inflation. Sinn Féin might say that last week’s €500,000-plus package is too small, but by suggesting billions more should be spent, “what you’re proposing is inflationary and would actually make things worse”.

Micheál tried to find something good amid all the worry. “We have to acknowledge that this economy has rebounded,” he said to Mary Lou. “I’m not sure you acknowledge that.”

It’s nice to see he’s keeping his sense of humour.

But she was more keen to acknowledge that he hasn’t a clue.

“Families are staring into the abyss . . . You cannot spin the truths of people’s lives.”

Big money

Do something that “takes costs down”, she urged. Ditch the carbon tax. Bring down the cost of childcare and rent so people are not paying big money to live in “kips, quite frankly”.

The Taoiseach accepted that many are suffering due to the rise in inflation.

“Everybody knows that.”

“Well, then, do something about it,” riposted Mary Lou.

That’s the different between the Government and Sinn Féin, he shot back. “We are doing something about it . . . Not just sounding off about it.”

As the session went on, he tried to get some recognition for the post-pandemic economic growth and strong employment figures. But that was never going to happen.

The new package of measures is a “paltry” offering, declared Richard Boyd Barrett of Solidarity-People Before Profit, finding it hard to understand how the Taoiseach could keep a straight face when talking about them.

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin described the package as little more than “a sticking-plaster”.

The consensus from across the floor was that the Coalition is not doing enough to control the spiralling cost of living. Give the workers a break, pleaded Boyd Barrett. Why is it always possible to “loot their pockets?” he asked. “But it’s never possible to put a bit of extra tax on those who can well afford it.”

Boyd Barrett, along with his colleagues Paul Murphy and Mick Barry, wanted a break for at least 100 security guards employed by Tesco, telling the Dáil that having worked through the pandemic they have now been told that their jobs are to be outsourced and if they don’t accept the move they face redundancy.

Barry read a letter from one security guard, Keith from Mayo, which began: “I have been spat at, threatened and beaten up for this company over the last 16 years. Then on Tuesday, on my day off, the company called me to tell me my job is gone. It’s upsetting and disrespectful and we all deserve so much better.

“How do I look my family in the eye when the mortgage company comes to take our home because Tesco took my livelihood away?”

‘Heroes’

Barry said: “Workers like Keith were the heroes of the pandemic.” He added that big supermarkets like Tesco did very well out of the crisis.

“Tesco made more than £1 billion from stores in the Republic of Ireland and the UK in the 2020-21 financial year.”

In a similar vein, RBB mentioned Aer Lingus, “a company that got a helluva lot of public money during Covid”, which is forcing its ground operation workers to vote on a pay freeze until 2025 and, in some cases, to take a 10 per cent permanent pay cut on their restored duty allowances.

He said the company went into the pandemic with cash reserves of €900 million, and that its cargo business made a profit during that period when most commercial flights were grounded.

The Taoiseach noted that the Government “did intervene and give assistance” to the company during the crisis.

“I would say to Aer Lingus they should respect their staff, many of whom have given long service . . . And the same applies to Tesco.”

Where every little helps.

Helps Tesco, that is, as opposed to the heroes of their pandemic.



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