Listen: Irish ‘recovery’ masking poverty

Listen Irish recovery masking poverty sister stan
25/5/2017 Lyndsey and Alan Byrne who have been sleeping in a tent for the last four days outside the Four Courts Dublin. Lydsney has been homeless for 17 years and Alan for 10 years. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/

Sister Stan: “It’s an emergency, it is a crisis”

‘Homeless children are being born into B&Bs in modern Ireland and it is unacceptable,’ says campaigning Irish nun Sister Stanislaus Kennedy

One of Ireland’s leading social justice campaigners Sister Stanislaus Kennedy, affectionately known as Sister Stan, says reports of Ireland’s economic recovery are misleading and hide some truly unacceptable poverty. The 77-year old nun makes her outspoken comments in an interview for blogger Ruairí McKiernan’s podcast series Love and Courage.

Ruairí outlined some of the highlights of a wide ranging interview for The Irish World here. Sr. Stan is the founder of Focus Ireland, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Young Social Innovators and the Sanctuary, an author of several books and a former member of the President of Ireland’s Council of State.

Listen to the podcast for free here:

It is on the topic of homelessness that is she perhaps most vocal and she becomes animated in the interview when discussing her work with people on the margins and a belief that Ireland remains a deeply unfair society.

“There are, in Ireland, many people who don’t know there was a recession at all. It had no effect on them. Many people – it’s not just the top people who are well off, and got richer. But there are many people that it didn’t affect at all, at all.

“And people would say that to you, better off people who it didn’t affect. And then, there are other people, like the low-paid worker, the unemployed, the poor people, the one-parent families, all those – they have suffered enormously. And the poverty that exists in some parts of our country is incredible. It’s unbelievable, in this day and age. And, not only that, but it’s never talked about now.”

“Oh sure, they’re in hotel rooms, they’re grand.”

“You have the awful situation of homelessness, that has increased year upon year upon year upon year for the past 15 years. And now it is totally out of control. Now it is an absolute crisis. And yet, we hear the plans and the plans and the plans, and now we have a lot of demands looking for increases in wages and salaries. And you have people with no homes, you know?

“You have thousands of children in bed and breakfast – in bedrooms in hotels and in B&Bs. And it’s not just here and there – they’re everywhere. I was talking to a person yesterday who is doing some work with people in B&Bs. And she works in a bed and breakfast in the city centre where there are 90 families, in 90 rooms. 90 families! People get the impression:

“Oh sure, they’re in hotel rooms, they’re grand.”

Listen Irish recovery masking poverty sister stan
Sr Stan Kennedy. Photo. Mark Stedman/Photocall

“And the children are going to be damaged. Can you believe, some children are born into that? Literally, I know of women who were in B&Bs – they went from there to go into the hospital to have their baby, and brought their baby back to the B&B. So the children are born into it, and reared into it. So, I mean, that is scandalous, in this day and age in Ireland. But that’s the kind of divisions you have in Ireland.

“Now, it’s hardly talked about. It’s talked about because we’ve been highlighting the fact that people are in hotel rooms – but it’s the awfulness of the hotel rooms. And it’s also the fact…it’s worse than the tenements, where you had the big houses in towns where there were many families. But there it was kind of a community. They knew each other. In hotel rooms, they don’t mix. They’re not allowed to mix.”

Asked why she thinks the problem continues, Sr. Stan says a lack of leadership and will remains a huge issue.

“Well, problems can be fixed. I think there’s a lot of bureaucracy. There’s huge bureaucracy that prevents things happening.”

“I think politicians can overrule that. If they want to. Of course they can.”

“I think they’re tied into the system. They’re tied into the system that is…the structure that exists. They’re connected – they’re not really for bringing about justice and equality.”

“If they give the five Euro extra in the pension, or whatever they did in the last budget – they think they will keep that group happy, for the moment. So they’re trying to keep a lid on that, and they’re keeping… It’s all, really, about political expedience.

“It’s absolutely, absolutely not about bringing about a fair and just society. On top of that, we have a political system that really isn’t working. And a political system where we have, as you said, politicians in for a certain length of time – they know they have so many years, they know that they want to do this much in that year, and to hell with what happens afterwards. So they don’t have, kind of, a statesmanship or womanship approach where they’re thinking of this issue and how long it will take to… So we need people in political life who have the long view, and who are prepared to work towards that long term.”

Listen Irish recovery masking poverty sister stan

“When I hear all the civil servants, public servants out looking for this and that and the other, I really think the government should say: “No, I’m sorry – we’re going to do something about housing and homelessness right now, and that’s where we’re going to put our resources. Because it is – it’s an emergency, it is a crisis.”

Asked how she feels about continually having to bang the same drum she says she is determined to continue.

“I think all I know is that these problems exist, these divisions exist, this terrible suffering exists. And it drives me on. It just drives me on. So I… there certainly are times I feel: “Oh, I wish I wasn’t saying that over and over again.”

But I don’t really think too much about what people think of me, and what people… Because you couldn’t stop. You’re compelled to go on saying it.

Ruairí McKiernan’s Love and Courage podcast features in-depth interviews with thinkers, innovators and activists including Professor Ivor Browne, Senator Frances Black, singer Christy Moore and more. You can download it for free on iTunes or any Podcast smartphone App or listen via SoundCloud.

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