Politicians answer the woke up call



TIME was, not so long ago, when there was a lot simmering under the surface in our lives in Ireland. There were things that weren’t right, which affected our lives; privately acknowledged but publicly ignored, issues of discrimination, social justice which were swept under the official carpet. It was as though politicians were either sheltered in their own bubble or afraid to take contentious bulls by the horns.

But now, hallelujah, our lives matter, some of our politicians are woke. They are taking note of injustice and taking steps to address it.

Banks have too often got away with treating their customers like dirt but now look at Michael Martin’s prompt reaction to AIB’s proposal to effectively close down 700 branches by making them cashless. The move was discriminatory, especially to rural communities, small businesses who need cash and those who can’t bank online. Martin, on a visit to Japan and Singapore at the time, immediately demanded that AIB – where the Government are 70% shareholders – reconsider the plan and called a meeting with bank bosses. Result AIB backed down. (The bank might also reconsider the advisability of having board members who don’t live in Ireland and are out of touch with the everyday lives of their customers.)

Half a century after Women’s Lib organised the Contraceptive Train in protest against the ban on contraception, we have recognition that a) women may be sexually active from their teens and b) that they need access to contraception. A measure giving 17- to 25-year-olds access to free contraception will be financed in the next Budget. Not only contraception, but free twice-yearly consultation, prescription costs and training for contraceptive staff. OK, older women may need contraception too but younger women are being prioritised as the least likely to be able to afford it.

It is patently evident that people are living longer these days, (our life expectancy is stretching by three years every decade) and your powers of observation would have to be severely challenged not to notice that those reaching retirement age at 66 are not all the same. People age differently and they want different things. Last week the pensions nettle was finally grasped when the Taoiseach announced changes to the pension system and that, “The rigid mandatory cut off point for retirement at 66 is to end.” People will now have the option of working on until 70. Bravo! If more could be done to counter ageist attitudes better still.

Anyone with half an eye in their head can see that there are 100s of vacant or abandoned buildings (100,000 according to the official count) in our towns and villages, at the same time there is a critical housing crisis. So applause for Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien who has noticed the waste of potential homes and introduced the Croi Conaith scheme which will give grants of up to €50,000 towards making these fixer uppers good for first time buyers – with mortgage approval and without having to deal with the dead hand of planning permission. (Why the scheme doesn’t include houses in the countryside like the ones featured on that excellent TV series Cheap Irish Homes I can’t fathom.)

One of the legacies of the unhappy history of Mother and Baby homes is that adopted people have often been denied access to their records. They face further heartache trying to discover if birth parents want to be contacted. From October the Birth Information and Tracing Act will come into effect allowing access with a contact preference register which will allow relatives to state their preference in relation to contact.

The violence against women, which has claimed the lives of 239 women over the last 26 years and the spike in domestic violence during lockdown are tragic evidence of the need to tackle sexism and gender-based violence. Where better to start than in the classroom. Education Minister Norma Foley has introduced a draft curriculum for junior cycle in secondary level (Social Personal and Health Education SPHE.) The new curriculum will deal with a wide range of issues facing teens today including consent, human sexuality, healthy and unhealthy relationships, the dangers of online pornography and the inadvisability of sending nude pictures on the internet. Couldn’t adults do with this kind of course too?

There are more indicators of wokeness in politics but no more space here to list them, never mind the many areas that remain to be tackled!


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