“The Irish case is particularly interesting” Professor Christopher T. Whelan describing the 2008 economic crisis in Ireland. Professor Whelan was one of a number of speakers at the debating austerity conference, which took place Thursday 29 and Friday 30 October 2015. I attended the debate and it raised serious concerns regarding the effects of austerity, in particular to children.
As I listened, however, I noticed the underlying conflict when it comes to austerity policies and recorded my thoughts on the which I have provided for this article.
It becomes apparent throughout the debate this afternoon that the fundamental conflict is not whether or not to support austerity but instead from what frame of reference do we approach the issue. This conflict was best demonstrated in the opening debate between John McHale and Kieran Allen.
John McHale, Established Professor and Head of Economics at NUI Galway, provides an analysis of the Irish economy leading into and during the recession. His presentation challenges the preconceptions surrounding the economic crash. John highlights that roughly one third of the deficit can be attributed to the banks, the remaining deficit however is the result of government expenditure.
Kieran Allen, Senior Lecturer in the School of Sociology in UCD, argues a contradictory frame of reference to the austerity debate. His presentation is concerned with the societal impact of austerity, he argues against ‘thatcher-like’ comparisons of the economy to the household. The impact to society, he says, is relegated in economic discussions which focus too heavily on figures and statistics. With this approach the vulnerable members of society suffer the greatest poverty through austerity measures.
Dorothy Watson, Associate Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute states that poverty is defined as earning 60% of the median income while Economic Vulnerability (EV) is a broad term to describe groups at risk of entering poverty. Both these terms are relative to the national average or median income. The third measure of Basic Deprivation (BD) describes a household that is incapable of providing at least two of eleven predetermined resources, examples being food and basic heating.
Professor Watson elaborates in greater detail some socio-economic factors introduced by Christopher T. Whelan, Emeritus Professor in the school of Sociology at UCD. In his presentation he briefly mentions the trends in which children are increasingly subjected to harsher conditions through austerity. Watson gives details that children which are briefly exposed to austerity measures suffer the same latent disadvantages as those children that suffer longer through austerity. The implications of her findings suggest that even a temporary ‘tightening of the belt’ can severely affect children’s futures.
Particularly telling in Irish society is that the protests to protect children gained less traction than the right to water campaign which may be ‘the long-time legacy of austerity in Ireland’ according to Niamh Hourigan, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Sociology at University College Cork. Niamh discusses the catalytic effect of the water charges as representing Irish resistance to austerity on the whole. She mentions it was the ‘physical installation of water meters [that] brought the reality of austerity in Ireland’.
Crucial to water campaign too was the way in which it was reported. The media is perceived to have a responsibility to the public. Julien Mercille, Lecturer at the School of Geography in UCD comments however that realistically the immediate truth is that the media is representative of corporate interests. Julien mentions that this is not necessarily contrary to the interests of the public. Though it is another factor which reinforces the importance of the frame of reference when approaching the issue of austerity.