Mícheál Martin cited increases in population as the reason for a tough budget this year. Memet Uludağ takes him to task, arguing that Ireland’s incredible budget surpluses expose Martin’s cynical deflections for what they are.
The Budget Spin Begins
In an interview with a journalist yesterday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said, “a very, very significant increase in population” is likely to result in a challenging Budget.
It seems the Irish government is preparing excuses and deflections for another harmful budget for ordinary people.
Martin’s soundbite on population growth is an unfounded assertion that could have dangerous consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in this country. Sadly, his statement went unchallenged yesterday.
Government Legacy: Multiple Crises
We have major crises when it comes to cost of living, housing and health. The cost of living is unforgivably high. Working people cannot afford to buy a house. Rents are crippling families and young people alike. People are suffering from the socio-economic policies of the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party government.
All of these are happening at the same time as Ireland’s rich are getting richer and the government is enjoying massive budget surpluses.
A recent BBC piece reported that “The Republic of Ireland is predicted to have a €65.2bn budget surplus by 2027”.
A New York Times headline on 15 September 2023 read “Ireland’s Latest Fiscal Headache: What to Do With (surplus) 10 Billion Euros?… Next year the surplus is expected to be 16 billion Euros.”
According to an Oxfam report in 2022, Irish billionaires’ wealth grew by over 50% during the Covid pandemic.
Oxfam’s report from this year presents another stark reality: The two richest people in Ireland have more wealth than 50% of the country’s poorest.
A Time Magazine (May, 2023) article said, “Against a backdrop of stagnating European growth, it [the Irish economy] expanded 12% in 2022. More of its people are at work than ever before. Its national coffers are overflowing, with the government forecasting a cumulative surplus of €65 billion by 2026.”
Earlier this year, official CSO figures showed that a record number of people are employed in Ireland. 2.57 million people are in work.
A Dangerous Path: Scapegoating Migrants
Why would Tánaiste Micheál Martin say a “significant increase in population is likely to result in a challenging Budget?”
What exactly is he hoping with this statement? What message is he giving, and to whom?
What are the facts behind his soundbite?
It is clear that Martin’s statement is part of a government propaganda aiming to push the blame for another hurtful budget onto others, in this case to migrants and refugees in this country.
He is trying to convince us that the economic hardship of people is not due to the gross failures of the FF-FG-GP government but the “population growth”; in other words, “All them foreigners”.
This is exactly how the mainstream politics and media operate: I am not racist but, I am going to say something racist.
Blame the Government, Not the Migrants
Workers produce the wealth in Ireland. The Tánaiste knows this very well. Irish governments of the past have always promoted this country to attract a foreign workforce.
Ireland benefited from migrant workers. But when the times were hard, some politicians turned to anti-immigrant sentiments. It was always about deflecting from the real issues and those in power who caused them.
Refugees and asylum seekers, if and when allowed, found employment and became part of economic activity in this country. International English language students in Ireland fill some of the key jobs in retail and services.
People coming to Ireland are not a burden: They come with knowledge, skills and a pair of capable hands. We have seen how migrant workers contributed to this country over the past three decades.
Ireland’s Population: Is Ireland Full?
The Tánaiste is trying to create a population panic. What better way of doing it than linking the economic hardship in this country to immigration and population growth.
Does the Tánaiste not know that Ireland had a much bigger population than today? In 1841 the population of the island was over 8.1 million. Famine and emigration reduced it to less than 5 million in 1891. The island’s population is now just over 7 million – still well below pre-famine levels.
With Martin’s logic all big and growing nations must be in trouble.
Does Micheál Martin remember the banking crisis and the austerity years? Does he remember the worst times for this country and its people? A time where young people were emigrating to find jobs and build a life elsewhere?
How does Martin square this circle?
Budget Gift to the Far-Right and Racists
Micheál Martin and his partners in Fine Gael and the Green Party have no interest in the wellbeing of ordinary people in this country. They refuse to build homes. They are not tackling the long running housing and health crises or the rising cost of living. They know the anger out there and they need to deflect it. In this case Martin chooses to use the migrants.
The far right scenes at the Dáil last week shocked everyone. I am sure Mr. Martin didn’t approve of the far right attacks on politicians. But it is exactly those forces that will act on Martin’s statement on population increase and his hint at migrants. So, who does Martin blame for fuelling the far right hate with false assertions?
During the Citizenship referendum of 2004 a widely used soundbite was “1 on 4 babies born in Ireland are born to foreign parents”. That soundbite and racist fear injected into society by rightwing politicians passed one of the most discriminatory and racist referendums in this country.
Today, the politicians and the policies of the “extreme centre” in power are hurting ordinary people and blaming migrants for their own failures.
It is not the population growth that will bring a challenging budget but the right-wing policies of the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael and the Green Party coalition.
Without using their exact words, Tánaiste Micheál Martin repeats a far right lie: “Ireland is Full”. And he is not the first one to do so.
The mainstream media is obsessed with the nonsense that the far right and far left are the same. They should instead follow on these statements and ask “extreme centre” politicians some hard questions.