There are many stark differences between the society Ireland believes itself to be and the one it is. We tend to think of the place as family focused and community minded, not inward and selfish or disinterested in the plight of our less fortunate neighbors.
So will it be a shock to learn that Ireland currently risks being censured by a United Nations committee because the incidents of child poverty have almost doubled since the recession with an estimated 1,500 homeless children now living in emergency accommodation?
Yes, 1,500 homeless Irish children is a national scandal, and a further 1,500 children are asylum seekers bringing the actual numbers to 3,000, with many living in the type of temporary accommodation that only adds to their social exclusion. And it's estimated that a further 1,500 Irish children will become homeless in 2016.
As we approach the centenary of the Easter Rising it's worth remembering that the Proclamation of the Republic vowed to cherish “all the children of the nation equally.” In practice, of course, the Irish Republic has never fulfilled this vow, and perhaps especially not in 2015.
It's estimated that at least 40 new families with children are being made homeless every month, an ongoing crisis by any yardstick. Although the recent report by the Irish Children's Rights Alliance says that for most children the Republic is a good place to live, the recession has hit many families hard and at a time when the government has cut back on crucial supports.
In 2016 we plan to celebrate the foundation of the state against this backdrop. But think for a minute of the circumstances that thousands of children will find themselves in. Whole families living together in one or two cramped rooms, resembling the squalid tenement conditions of a Sean O'Casey play from the last century, classic works of social justice that savaged the terrible conditions the Irish poor found themselves forced to live in.
Back then we could blame the Brits for our economic shortcomings, but who do we point the finger at now?
Almost 1.4 million Irish people -- that's 30 percent of the country's population -- had to endure “enforced deprivation” throughout 2013, the Irish Central Statistics Office (CSO) announced earlier this year. They also found the rate of “enforced deprivation” had more than doubled between 2008 and 2013.
“Enforced deprivation” is the dry eyed term that statistics offices use to describe a form of poverty characterized by a lack of two or more basics required for a comfortable standard of living, like being able to afford adequate food, heating and clothing.
This didn't happen in a vacuum of course. Recall how the disastrous IMF and EU “structural readjustment” programs tore up Ireland’s social fabric, leading to bone deep government cuts that in turn created the highest levels of emigration from the state since the Great Hunger.
With it's capitalism for the people and socialism for the banks approach, the Irish government bowed to its EU masters and stuck the nation with a bill its financial services sector had run up but could not pay. We will be paying for their short-sightedness for the rest of our lives, and thousands of our nation’s children have started paying before they can even understand why the bill came due.
That banking bail out decision was the asteroid strike that has turned Irish society upside down and from which – despite all the sunny sales pitches of the government – we have not recovered.
The people most at risk from poverty now are still the most traditionally marginalized, lone parents, the unemployed, those out of work through illness or disability, and children.
Pensioners found their interests protected by the government, which refrained from cutting them at all costs. Pensioners tend to vote in high numbers, so instead children saw cuts to their poverty programs. Meanwhile, it is becoming clear that the kind of radical policy moves to address rising inequality are beyond this government's capabilities.
A detail of the latest CSO figures also confirms a pattern that is true here in the United States: Over the period since the recession began the gap between the richest and poorest 20 percent of the population has increased by more than 11 percent.
So the society that Ireland is now is one where poverty and wealth pull away from each other socially and economically, on quite separate trajectories and seemingly without end. The figures are damning for the parties in power since the recession began.