VICTORIA WHITE: Sacrificing young for good of the old not good enough anymore

THE youth guarantee scheme is looking more and more like a PR stunt. The EU-wide commitment to offer young people under 25 who exit education a quality job or training place within four months is a good one.

But it must translate into a real commitment in this country or this economy will rue these days for a generation.

The signs are very bad. While the Taoiseach was in Paris this week to discuss the guarantee scheme, a leaked report from the Department of Social Protection was dripping all over the media.

It said there just wasn’t the money for the guarantee — that young people might have to wait for nine months for a job or training place, not four. That we might target particular groups among the under-25s, not the entire cast of thousands.

A spokesman for the minister for social protection was already out there saying it was always envisaged that the indebted nations would introduce the guarantee on a “phased basis”.

You can have a job or a training place, but not just now. Maybe in a year. Maybe not. Is that a surf board I see under your arm or are you just pleased to see me?

So the importance to the Government of those passages to Australia and the rest of the known world becomes obvious. They really do need enough young people to get out of this place or the guarantee is going to be a shambles. We are currently looking at 20,000 jobs or training opportunities being set aside for young people next year, but 42,000 young people have been out of work for four months.

Door-stepped in Paris, the Taoiseach came out with a stream of gibberish which implied that the problem was he didn’t know where the unemployed young people were: “The question is when young people leave education and go on the Live Register how soon do you know that....”

Eh... when they sign on, I would have thought? Isn’t that the function of a “Live Register”?

The true function of the cut in unemployment benefit of the under-25s to €100 and to €144 for a 25-year-old announced in last month’s budget, has become clear. It is an attempt to make our young people leave the country.

Joan Burton, the minister for social protection, has been out there saying she wants 18-year-olds to be full of “excitement” about their prospects, not signing on the dole. The argument is bogus. We found out during the Celtic Tiger years that young people are gagging for work and education. Some analysis shows our youth unemployment rate as having gone up 140% since 2006.

There is a section of society trapped in multi-generational unemployment which was untouched by the boom. But Burton knows full well they face far bigger challenges than too much dole.

The vast majority of our young people who are signing on are doing so because they have no choice. No choice if they are going to stay in Ireland.

A proper social welfare system would give them the option of doing just that. There is this constant mantra from Government that signing on the dole is demeaning and dispiriting — and it can be. But I am one of the last lost generation, the young people of the 1980s and dole played a massive part in holding our lives and this society together.

I did not have the kind of relationship with my family which would have allowed me to rely on them. I am sure that such a reliance could have implications for their mental health. When a child is grown a child is grown.

I signed on from time to time for a couple of years and so did my husband. We used the dole as a kind of Basic Income which offered us the security to pause and plan.

My husband started a business. I became self-employed as a writer. We both emigrated for a short time but both of us came back before 1990 absolutely determined to stay in this country.

We loved this place. We wanted to raise our kids here. We weren’t going to let anyone stop us. And here we are.

What is never recognised is that there was a lot of creativity here in the 1980s against the background of a dole subsidy. Most of the arts world at the time was held together by dole and without it we might have little testimony by that generation of that time — perhaps no Macnas, no Druid, no Rough Magic....

That’s why I applaud the “We’re Not Leaving” campaign, which last weekend held a young peoples’ forum in Liberty Hall in Dublin. The We’re not Leaving Youth Charter is full of demands and some of them, such as third-level Education free at point of entry, are unrealistic.

But one demand which comes across as a basic civil right is this: “The recognition of our status as adults in society.”

That is the one thing we have been unable to do for our young people since the Famine. It’s like we’re so frightened they’ll go off and make babies we can’t feed that we have to starve them or get rid of them. Classic writers like Tom Murphy peopled plays such as Conversations on a Homecoming with over-grown children, deprived by a culture of waiting for the farm from a normal progression to adulthood.

I got a bit of perspective on my own experience of the 1980s by reading a book by Maynooth academic, Mary Corcoran, Irish Illegals: Transients Between Two Societies (1993) which portrays a generation living in the US as if they were in a waiting room: Holding off, not just on marriage and children, but on committed relationships, in the hope that real life would start in Ireland.

She explained clearly that this relationship with our young people was a choice. We were intent on exporting enough people so that the rest of us could divide the pie into bigger slices.

SO let’s be clear about this — we are choosing to export our young people so that the rest of us can relax on a steady ship. Some of the reasons for this are unlikely to be discussed in the environs of Liberty Hall, but I’ll get the ball rolling. We continue to pay high public service wages and pensions which reflect those wages when the workers in question have paid their mortgages and raised their families. We continue to hand out money to wealthy families through child benefit and other benefits. We continue to hand out medical cards to particular age groups regardless of where the need really is.

And this is all despite the fact that we have a crisis on our hands. Sorry — on our young people’s hands. In their hand luggage.

Sacrificing the young for the good of the old is an entrenched tradition in this country and I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you can’t lay this all at the feet of Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan. They can only do what is politically possible.

The change has to come from those of us who are no longer young. We have to learn to move over.


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