One of the only classes I vividly remember from secondary school was a civics class, when the teacher taught us how to read a newspaper.
Properly. Critically. Without fear or favour.
It is probably the only lesson that I learned in my five years there that I felt was any use – but it’s not a bad one, considering it has enabled me to make a living.
I thought of that this morning when I read the latest Irish Times puff piece backing up Joan Burton and her soft-focus attempt to come across as some sort of benign Irish Thatcher as she cracks down on “welfare tourism.”
In this process she is often aided by journalists and readers who fail to cast a critical eye over her claims that it is welfare recipients, and not her moneyed masters, that represent the greatest threat to Irish society – if they did, she would be instantly revealed to be spinning. Again.
The article is breathless in its promise, giving us a statistic that “one case has been detected every four days.”
It then goes on to produce Burton’s most fantastic, and transparently made-up, claim.
Welfare inspectors at ports and airports discovered 122 cases in the past 18 months, saving the State €1.35m as a result, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said.
Firstly, “discovering” one case every four days is entirely irrelevant, as you’ll soon find out.
And the €1.35 million in savings is based on “estimates (of) future payments the welfare recipients would have received if they were not detected,” according to the Department.
That is to say – in Anglo parlance – that the Department “pulled the figure out of their arse.” They stuck their finger in the air and put 122 cases together, and came up with €1.35 million out of nowhere.
By this point most readers would have headed on over to theJournal.ie to engage in a flurry of comments about ne’er-do-wells too lazy to work.
A shame, because if they read further they’d discover that the 122 cases led to a whopping FIVE prosecutions.
And the concrete, non-pulled-out-of-the-arse figure for money recovered by the state? €54,000, or an average of around €11,000, give or take a claimable ministerial expense.
That can hardly be a sum Burton considers huge, given that she pays her “special adviser” €35,796 (or the tangible equivalent of three fraudulent social welfare claims) as a top-up to the €92,000 they are supposedly restricted to.
(For the record, the bank bailout will arguably end up costing each Irish citizen around €16,500. Maybe Joanie’s cronies would have been better off dispensing with the clipboard and waiting for the Troika with a baseball bat in the arrivals hall instead.)
There is a widespread belief, fostered by successive governments, that Ireland’s real enemies are the handful of crooks (and the fact that there have been only five prosecutions shows it’s truly a handful) that check in, sign on and fly out.
But those doing the real damage are those who fly into Ireland with a laptop bag, not a holdall.
For all their talk about “the most vulnerable,” Joan and the rest of the Labour Party insist on demonising welfare recipients – many of them put in that situation thanks to Burton’s government and its myopic insistence on continuing with their austerity fetish.
Having been constantly cowed, they do what any supplicant does in a corporate culture – kiss upwards and kick downwards. Their journey to the dark side is complete.
But rather than standing at the airport trying to save the odd ten grand (and at what cost?), Joan might spend a day or two at the departure gates this Christmas, apologising to all those forced to leave because of the ineptitude of her, her party and her government.
In Ireland, nothing lies like numbers, but most of the time they can’t even get them right.