Éire go Brágh

Joan Burton’s anti-fraud campaign is encouraging us to report anyone suspected of making false or improper welfare claims.  She says that there are hundreds of millions being recovered in this campaign and that this year so far they have received over 8,500 anonymous tips from members of the public.

It is a curious thing for anyone to advocate citizens reporting or spying on one another, promoting distrust and misunderstanding in our communities. It is a populist sound-bite to advocate ‘snitching‘, appealing to the crudest intellect – are these the values we cherish at this time of crisis?

Citizens should indeed respect the law, but this campaign is an insult, worse, it misdirects our real wish to have problems resolved.

The reality is that increasing numbers of our neighbours are struggling to provide for their families, are we to hound them on suspicion of criminality … as if they had caused this crisis? Let’s not add to the real fears in our society, let’s not attack the weak.

Last week Minister Burton said that welfare fraud takes money “off people like old age pensioners“, as if robbing Peter would pay Paul … are we expected to believe that whatever funds this campaign raises will then be re-distributed to the needy?

Officials are creeping over 800,000 files and visiting the homes of citizens to check if they are really impoverished and entitled to welfare.  A big and expensive effort is underway, but what does it amount to?

Last year, of about 250 cases only 165 were fined and 8 jailed, despite a claimed 6,000 anonymous reports!  The maximum fine possible was €1,500, therefore recovery, if collected, was a mere €250,000!  In addition, they will have reduced the cost of some claims, though not eliminating them, with possibly others dropping out in fear.  Those are the facts involved, the hundreds of millions quoted are a fiction, they are the invention of political spin to promote the illusion of huge welfare fraud and the governments success in fighting it.

Is the truth not obvious?  Why are there no politicians, bankers, senior civil servants and rogue developers in jail?  They would be a relatively small number of cases to fight – but the fraud value is incomparably higher, many 10’s of billions!

This month, AIB Bank, a state company, will pay €1.5 billion in unguaranteed bonds, Bank of Ireland will do the same.  Before year end another near €2 billion will be handed to unsecured bond holders, exceeding the expected budget cuts in December.

So where stands the €250,000 that Ms. Burton is making a big deal about?

Maybe it is to hide the gross rip-off in our country?  So long as we are distracted with such issues our attention is kept away from the real fraud and those who perpetrate it.

The only fitting response to the crisis today is not to persecute the “little man“, as we are being asked, but to get organised to empower ourselves and not the vested interests as represented by the party system – including Ms. Burton’s Labour Party.

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