Homeless man casts a long shadow over Gilmore

THE dishevelled-looking homeless man, slumping under the weight of a filthy sleeping bag draped around his shoulders, was quietly ushered away from the Eamon Gilmore campaign stunt he had stumbled across.

Eamon Gilmore casts his vote in the European and Local Election yesterday at Scoil Mhuire in Shankill, Co Dublin. Pic: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Clearly, Labour did not want one of the actual victims of such an unjust society to ruin the cosy image of a self-styled “people’s party” battling for all as the election campaigns climaxed last Thursday.

Labour wanted the sexy samba band it had brought along for the occasion at the gates of St Stephen’s Green in the pictures, not some down-and-out killing the buzz.

It was a rare moment when the reality of people’s lives almost touched the bubble inhabited by the political class that runs them.

Another came when the Dáil debated the medical card withdrawal scandal and the parents of disabled children who had their health lifeline snatched away from them looked down on the scene below through the glass barrier of the public gallery.

One onlooker was Mark Fitzpatrick, who had to fight long and hard to get a card for his ten-month-old son Eric, born with a gene mutation which only 90 people in the world have.

“I never really knew the way the Dáil worked. I sat there and found it fascinating,” Mr Fitzpatrick told Newstalk Breakfast as he talked movingly about the struggle he and his family had gone through with the HSE, and his disgust at the Dáil:

“There was three people sitting there defending the Government, and when the bell rang— when it came to the vote— 69 quite happy looking people with red faces, as far as I can see, came in from the bar, walked-in, sat down, pressed the button to vote no against us, and walked straight back out the door again after pressing it the second time.

“They obviously had to hang around in the bar for the day, maybe they weren’t in the bar, I don’t know, but they hung around for an hour just to walk in, press a button and walk out again.

“It was disgusting. They were laughing. They were full of the joys, actually; as a parent with a disabled son it was very belittling seeing the attitude of those people in there.

“It’s frightening the way they go on.”

After more than a year of stonewalling, denial and disinterest, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Health Minister James Reilly have finally acknowledged the medical card mess they stood over for so long because the elections forced them out of their Dáil bubble onto the doorsteps of real people.

And then there was Alan. Mr Shatter exerted a curious type of time-delay revenge on his erstwhile colleagues in Cabinet as for 36 hours he refused to say whether he would accept the €70,282 he is “entitled” to as severance pay.

We hear an awful lot about the evils of the “entitlement culture” from the likes of Mr Shatter when it comes to welfare cheats, but it seems to be a different affair when it is the political class.

A delay by Public Expenditure Reform Minister Brendan Howlin meant the perk was, technically, still available when Mr Shatter resigned under a very dark cloud as he came in for a savaging in the Guerin report into his failures in office regarding taking whistle blower accusations seriously enough.

After letting the payment dominate the news cycle for nearly two days — and doing damage to his own party in the process as it looked as if he might be about to give voters another 70,282 reasons not to vote Fine Gael, Mr Shatter called an attention-seeking press conference to unveil his decision.

The ex-minister announced he would take the money, but then give it to charity, where, after tax deductions, the Jack And Jill Foundation would end up with almost €50,000 of it.

Given that he had voted against other ministers receiving the payment from taxpayers cash, this raised some eyebrows.

Especially, as the recipients have been one of the leading critics of the Government’s clash and burn cuts of €25m from the medical card budget which has caused so much distress to families with disabled children and all the other sick people affected.

Maybe, rather than give Jack And Jill a pay-off he received on a technicality from the taxpayer, Mr Shatter might have done more good if he had spoken out on the medical card issue while a senior Cabinet minister.

A similar disconnect is still being shown in the area of homelessness following a damning report from Barnados warning that a new generation of children look set to grow-up without a proper home.

A €19m initiative announced by the Government to create some 187 housing units for homeless families is better than nothing — but not by much.

To hear Mr Kenny talk on the subject you would think he had been in opposition for the past three years, not in power.

“This is a factor (homelessness) which has become quite a phenomena over the last number of years and it is one government has got to respond to in an urgent fashion, and we will.

“I hope that government can demonstrate, as we have focus on here now, a real response where this matter can be dealt with

“I note the comments that up to five or six persons or families are becoming homeless on a daily basis. This is not sustainable and it’s not acceptable,” he said.

If it is “not acceptable” why has Mr Kenny accepted it for three long years and only decided to, cautiously, move now?

The news would come as cold comfort to the homeless man moved along out of camera shot by Labour minders in St Stephen’s Green.

That man was unaware he was witnessing the Tánaiste asserting Labour’s social justice stance as he asked the member of Mr Gilmore’s entourage who was guiding him away from the limelight: “Is it for charity?”

The depressing truth is that, no, it was just for votes.

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