Enda Kenny lets the mask slip with jab at the unemployed

Enda Kenny lets the mask slip with jab at the unemployed

ENDA Kenny has plainly told the unemployed that they should ‘get off the couch’ and look for work. Does that ring any bells? Anyone remember a certain Norman Tebbitt and his ‘get on your bike’ and look for work?

At times Enda Kenny seems to have a humanity that Bertie Ahern was clearly lacking. He spoke bravely and with emotion both for the Magdalene survivors and at the funeral of his colleague and friend Shane McEntee. There was something there we could all recognise.

But with much quieter fanfare he has insisted that he cannot force the congregations to contribute to Magdalene compensation. He has now laid into the unemployed — 433,900 at the last count — in a way that is both cynical and heartless.

We have been here before so often and so predictably it is wearisome but the same fundamental points have to be made over and over again.

Ireland is broke and has a huge unemployment problem because a business and political elite, at the very least, mismanaged the country in an epic way. At the very most, and courts of law may just yet prove this, they did so in a way that was criminal. None of that can be disputed.

What I will dispute with Enda Kenny and with all those upstanding and fortunate members of society who are so quick to explain their success by pointing to their own abilities and other’s hardship on their failings, is that I know of no person who is unemployed who is so because they cannot be bothered to get off the couch.

This blaming of those worst used by an economic disaster is cynical and deliberate. The celebration of wealth that characterised the Celtic Tiger has now found its apposite in austerity’s blaming of the least wealthy for being the least wealthy.

Enda Kenny, well, he is clearly just being himself and clearly just being Fine Gael. It is easy to forget after the shabby shambles that was Fianna Fáil in power that Fine Gael were not the knights in shining armour but the big farmers in tweed.

Back in the early 1980s I was myself unemployed for nearly two years. It was a dispiriting and aimless time but I was a young kid and I had no dependents. In fact I was a dependent.

I remember very well though Tebbitt’s jibe and the divide that was nurtured between those who had and those who hadn’t. Between those who were deserving and those who weren’t.

Now in 2013 I know a good number of men who are unemployed, who have dependents and mortgages and bills and lives that have largely been lived already. Not one of them, not one single, solitary one of them, is lying on the couch luxuriating in a life on benefits and welfare.

This is the great myth of the well-to-do, of the comfortable. It is the great myth that is force fed to hard-working ‘taxpayers’ who are encouraged to resent not those who benefit most from a ludicrously unjust system but those who benefit least.

It is the kind of thinking that sees people not object to those who bankrupted them but those who are just about clinging on, those who, we are told, are getting a lot for nothing. Sitting on their couches while we go out to work.

Unfortunately for Enda he let himself down when he backed up his remarks at the unemployed by insisting they get up because nobody but nobody gets something for nothing in Ireland.

“We can’t have a situation where there is a perception, an understanding or an acceptance that everything is for nothing in this world.

"Everybody is expected to make some contribution some way or other,” Enda told us, just weeks after the American senate itself called Ireland a tax haven for multi-national companies. Which is essentially nothing but the very richest getting everything for nothing.

Irish society is currently confronting a lot of past horrors. It is currently getting to grips with a lot of change.

What will not serve it in anyway is the imposition of an undeserving and deserving poor divide, the bash-the-least-well-off tactic. It is dishonest and unjust.

I don’t suspect for one minute that Enda Kenny regrets saying what he said. What I suspect, sadly, is that he has once more let the mask slip. But at least we all now know where we stand.