A PRESENTATION sister scissored through banknotes at a public meeting in the Treo Nua Resource Centre at Knockmay in Portlaoise last Wednesday night (March 21).
Sr Maureen O’Connell, a Mountmellick-based Presentation nun, did so to illustrate the way the current economic crisis was cutting into family incomes.
The dismembered banknotes were fake, she assured her listeners.
The purpose of the meeting was to protest against Government policy in dealing with the crisis and, in particular, against the imposition of bank debs on to the taxpayer.
The attendance was small, leading one person to ask: “Where are the people? There are only 27 of us in the room. Where are they?”
Another, noting the age profile present, wondered: “Where are the young people?”
Caroline Dwane, a Sinn Fein Portlaoise Town Councillor: “They are all in Australia.”
Anger was evident. Businessman Bill Marum, for example, made no secret of the fact that the economic downturn had hit him hard.
“I’m finished voting for TDs.” He described the Dail as a “Punch and Judy Show.” He wondered how TDs and Ministers could sleep at night when people were lying on hospital trolleys.
“How can people sit in the Dail and not do anything about it? The Government are supposed to work for us. They are not working for us,” he said.
A lady speaker, referring to Dail Deputies and Ministers: “If I earned €100,000 or €200,000 I wouldn’t be too worried either.”
Knockmay Family Resource Centre Coordinator Pam Bergin said a five percent annual funding cut over the next three years was going to have an awful effect on services in the facility.
She went on: “We have a creche downstairs. We just opened it--and then to get this massive cut. We created 12 jobs when we opened the crŽche. We are not going to have the money to sustain it.”
She claimed: “People do not realize the extent of the cuts. It’s really bad.”
A male speaker said people who had been in comfortable circumstances “now have nothing.”
Alan Hand, a Sinn Fein County Councillor, agreed. He told of dealing with one such man who had been “contemplating taking his own life.”
The man, he explained, had been successful in business. But he couldn’t get social welfare because he had been self-employed. He wasn’t able to put petrol into his car to drive to town for shopping.
Cllr Dwane believed people had a right to be angry. She said she had a business beside the Portlaoise social welfare office where she saw people queuing every morning.
Marie Moran, of the equality studies section of the UCD school of justice, said the 3.1 billion euro promissory note due for payment at the end of this month would more than fund the entire primary school system.
What can we do? she asked. She urged people to “make noise”, to sign petitions, to write to TDs, to organize public protests.
Niamn McCrea, Community Development Lecturer at Carlow IT, also addressed the meeting. In attendance, too, was Mountmellick Fine Gael Town Councillor Bobby Delaney.
Sr O’Connell is a member of the Presentation Justice Network. The Debt Justice Action Alliance was also involved in the meeting.