Thursday, April 02, 2009
Queuing for food
by Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
A HUMAN river of despair and hunger flowed to the gates of the Capuchin Friary.
In scenes reminiscent of a failed state, more than 700 people queued from early morning amid fears they would miss the free food parcels to be distributed — and they were right to worry as demand overwhelmed the friars and basic items like bread, tea, sugar and canned foods all ran out.
The speed and brutality with which the economic crisis is searing through Irish society was clear from the faces of young people and parents amidst the hundreds of people snaking along Dublin’s Church Street, their grim reality mocked by the unseasonal sunshine.
Brother Kevin Crowley expressed deep sadness at the desperation unfolding before him, but, with the numbers of those in need doubling so quickly, the day centre could no longer cope with demand.
The friary is a lifeline for people who would once have looked upon it only as a destination for the homeless and truly destitute.
Struggling families, youngsters and ex-professionals reeling from the suddenness of their fall from financial security made up a large swathe of the crowd, Br Crowley said. "I was talking to one young man who felt terrible he had to come here for food, but he was hungry and had no choice."
This is not an isolated sight, merely a snapshot of the human cost of a crisis which is being repeated across Ireland.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen has warned of five more years of pain, with living standards diving by 10% and, for the first time in the history of the state, the next generation doing worse than the present one. That pain is already hurting hard as the Live Register reached a grim new all-time high of 372,800 people in March.
Mr Cowen mumbled his way through the latest figures in the Dáil, as if he could not bear to raise his voice to make it audible. And who would want to preside over such a shameful national waste of lives and talent?
More than 80,000 people have swelled the dole queues in just three months — a 90% rise in one year — and Mr Cowen knows it’s only going to get worse as he admits the register will top 450,000 by year’s end. If he is willing publicly to acknowledge that, then there must be fear the reality could be much worse. Mr Cowen must see restricted cabinet papers warning of the social consequences of 500,000 or even 600,000 on the dole — it’s going to be a long, cold, bitter recession.
There was no comfort to be drawn from the fact that the increase in those joining the welfare rolls had slowed from 1,000 a day to 500 a day during March. Gallows humour would suggest the drop is merely due to the fact the country now feels like it is simply running out of any jobs left to cut.
Br Crowley wonders how he will feed the masses that flood into the day centre — those seeking free meals have doubled to 430 a day — on donations of e1m a year. Nearly half of that total, e450,000, comes from a government grant, but with welfare payments in the firing line of next week’s crisis budget, as well as everything else, who knows what the future holds?
"It used to be the homeless, but now it’s those who have just lost their jobs, young people and families coming to us — and that’s worrying," Br Crowley added.
The friary ran out of food parcels for the first time yesterday and was forced to leave some people empty-handed. However, that will not stop the tide of misery continuing to sweep along Church Street to its doors.