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Bailout over but suffering goes on for Ireland's most needy

12 december 2013, 13:46
0
Ireland will receive plaudits this weekend when it exits its financial bailout but advocacy groups warn that the most vulnerable in society will still suffer from lingering austerity measures, AFP reports.

"There is a need for sensitivity. The suffering isn't over," John Dolan, chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland, told AFP.

"Without doubt, the financial crisis years have had a devastating consequence on people and will continue to do so for a number of years to come because we're going to have further cuts in the next budget," he added.

As part of Ireland's 85 billion euro ($115 billion) European Union-International Monetary Fund bailout three years ago, Dublin accepted strict conditions requiring repeated spending cutbacks and tax rises in an attempt to get its financial crisis under control.

Ireland has returned to growth, unemployment is falling and the IMF has praised the Irish rescue programme as one that future bailout countries can learn from.

While the headline figures point to great progress, they mask the bitter reality of a country that has experienced seven consecutive austerity budgets.

The biggest hits have been taken disproportionately by the poorest, according to think-tank Social Justice Ireland.

"If you look at the situation now compared to what it was before the crash itself, the poorest ten percent have lost almost a fifth of all their income whereas the richest ten percent are down just 11.4 percent," the SJI's director Sean Healy told AFP.

"The situation is actually even worse when you include the impact of cuts in services and the increased charges that were introduced ranging from everything from prescriptions to school transport."

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since summer 2009 last month but at 12.5 percent it means there are still hundreds of thousands without work.

Anna Doyle, 42, and her husband Ambrose from Ashford in County Wicklow, south of Dublin, lost their jobs in June 2011 and have been searching for work ever since.

"It's been really stressful and totally demoralising," Anna told AFP.

"Out of all the jobs I applied for I've only ever got two replies and my husband has not received one single reply in all that time."

She said the stress of being unable to find work has had a massive impact on her family, with four children under 16 when the couple were made jobless.

"The stress was unbelievable. Our washing machine broke and we couldn't afford to fix it. We ended up having to handwash everything for the six of us.

"It's like that all the time, there's always something new -- a new electricity bill, or the bank will be on your back again."

Anna says any celebration of the bailout exit should be put on hold until the government gets to grip with the huge numbers of unemployed and the reality of life relying on social welfare.

"Put the politicians in my house for a week and they'll see a different Ireland completely."

The disability allowance, the blind pension, the invalidity pension and allowances for those caring for sick relatives are just some of the payments cut by Dublin as it reins in spending.

Ger McLoughlin, 45, who suffers from spina bifida and hydrocephalus, moved back to his elderly parents' home in rural County Kildare after losing his job in 2009 and relies on the mobility and disability allowance.

"I have less income each year to spend on ...because I don't live independently and as I live miles from a main road a lot of my spending is just on taxis to get places."

With Dublin committed to hitting the EU's deficit target rules of 3.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015, further adjustments are likely next year.

"Even though we're coming out of the bailout, we're still going to have to pay the loans back," Ger said.

"None of this hardship will go away overnight - it'll be years. It will improve eventually but will it be too late for me?"

Emigration, long a feature of the Irish social landscape, has once again become a dominant response to the economic woes.

Enda Maloney, 26, from Longford, left Ireland in 2010 after graduating with a degree in electrical engineering.

"I just didn't feel there was anything here for me and I didn't want to waste the rest of my twenties waiting for things to improve," he told AFP from Calgary in Canada, where he now works as a project engineer.

"It's sad that I'm not at home near my friends and family. Maybe one day I'll go back for good but I'm getting on with life away from Ireland now and that has to be my focus."

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