Poverty at home – poverty abroad

YOU could do worse than give the St Vincent de Paul Society a few bob this Christmas. There are many, many people in this town whose misery falls outside the scope of the social welfare system and the SVP has a proven track record of reaching them.

Personally, I think the concept of relative poverty is mostly a nonsense. The idea that poverty in Ireland is increasing as unemployment falls just brings the whole poverty debate into disrepute.

But there is absolute poverty even if there is less of it.

A lot of it is not just about lack of money. It may be about other things like addiction, family breakup, sickness, both mental and physical, and just plain being outside the mainstream ways of doing things.

I have seen children in areas of this city who are malnourished. Why are they hungry? Because they are living with people who haven’t got their act together, who themselves are worn down by their own problems so much that they don’t give their children the attention that they need.

There are a thousand scenarios. Each more complex than the last. It takes more than a big building with glass counters handing over money to reach this type of poverty.

It takes a personal touch, a direct local knowledge and basic compassion. The SVP provide this bridge, as do others like Simon, Focus and even NALA (Adult Literacy). A few bob can make a big difference.

Bertie’s mad promise

I HAVE a picture in my my mine of Bertie standing at the podium in the General Assembly in the UN and promising that Ireland would reach the 0.7% of GNP aid target by 2007.

I thought then, looking at Bertie’s beaming face, that the Government had had a rush of blood to the head and had made a promise that would be very hard to fulfil. And I was right.

I hate to be nice to the Government here, but they really have let themselves down badly in the spin stakes. Because the record of this Government on Overseas Development Aid (ODA) has been absolutely fantastic.

In 1997 our ODA stood at €96m. Next year it will be €535m. Per head of population only five countries in the world give more ODA than Ireland.

The Government have allowed themselves to be crucified on the cross of the 0.7% aid target. The NGOs have (ungallantly) waded in to land the boot.

Nobody seems to mention the fact that the 0.7% target has been an utter failure in getting the rich countries to come up with the cash. Of the 22 OECD countries, only four have reached the target.

This is because GNP is a measure of national wealth. It is not a measure of how much money each Government has.

A better target would be, for example, 1% of tax receipts, where each state would be required to spend a fixed amount of what they collect.

Instead of embracing common sense we have a rancorous argument that doesn’t reflect our achievements. And doesn’t do much for the poor of the world either.