Ireland's 'Social Protection' Minister Joan Burton has today prompted comparisons to Britain's infamously tough Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher after choosing to hit out at what she termed a social welfare 'culture' in Ireland.
The Minister's misguided remarks have already drawn criticism from Opposition parliament members and unemployment support groups alike and reflect an attitude obviously still prevalent in Government that it's those out of work, rather than those overseeing the running of the economy, who are to blame for the disquieting numbers 'signing on' to social welfare in order to make ends meet.
It's true that there are some who take State handouts for the 'wrong' reason. When the difference between the average weekly Dole (social welfare) payment and a poorly paid four day workweek is often negligible who could blame some easy-going souls for choosing the easier path, at least temporarily? But by and large personal experience living here would indicate that the majority of those signing on are doing so for the 'right' reason, namely providing themselves with a basic weekly income at a time when they wouldn't otherwise be able to get by.
Those drawing the Dole for no good reason bar laziness can sometimes seem like an attractive bunch to follow, of course (the free-money-no-work lifestyle certainly has its selling points!) but most people will make at least some genuine attempt to find paid employment before having recourse to the State's welfare system.
What's disappointing is that the unduly harsh comments - which have been roundly criticized - were made by Ireland's supposed 'Social Protection' Minister, and a Labour Party one no less, who seems to have a doubtful grasp on both the remit of her portfolio - protecting those in society most in need - and the core ethos of the traditionally working-class part that as Deputy Leader she prominently represents.
Mostly, though, it just seems like another display of an aptitude for dodging responsibility that the current government seems to have so easily inherited from the previous one. Is it trite to point out that were it not for these politicians' disastrous economic planning there wouldn't be such heavy reliance upon the social welfare system to begin with?
Whatever about the crux of the Minister's comments, though, whether there is widespread abuse of the social welfare system or not, it's certainly a disheartening example of the kind of chasm that has emerged between Ireland's public representatives and the people they so often underwhelmingly manage to 'represent'.
Burton is an otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, and astute politician, but she could definitely have found better things to say during a recession than criticize those on social welfare.