OF the numerous back-to-work schemes concocted by this government, perhaps the shiftiest was Gateway, the utter failure of which was revealed last week by Cork County Council.
According to officials, not one of the 205 people taken on by the local authority was given permanent employment – a searing indictment of Fine Gael’s much-trumpeted plan to enable jobless people learn new skills that would help provide a ‘pathway’ back to full-time employment.
The job activation project commenced in 2014 and was immediately condemned as a crude manoeuvre to massage the live register for political purposes. True to form, Gateway was in line with flops such as JobBridge (the National Internship Scheme), a discredited effort that left people with almost no workplace rights and, needless to say, no jobs when they completed their so-called job training.
In crude terms, Gateway was an exercise in exploiting the unemployed. FF councillor Kevin O’Keeffe famously described the scheme during an acrimonious Council debate back in 2014, as being akin to slave labour.
Other critics saw Gateway as a ploy to avoid paying for dedicated public service staff. They also made the point that Gateway presented jobless people with the dilemma of working for next to nothing or losing the dole.
Indeed, economists argued that by creating a pool of cheap labour, the scheme had a distorting influence on the employment market. It displaced real jobs and undermined the pay and conditions of existing employees.
Not that Blueshirt free-marketers were concerned at the fact that the scheme did not create job opportunities and that it merely papered over cracks in local government services that, ironically, were caused in the first place by a lack of staff.
The credibility of the criticism was demonstrated during the recent Cork County Council debate when Cllr Des O’Grady complained that Gateway ‘was only plugging gaps that the Council itself should be filling.’
Other councillors said the scheme was ‘soul-destroying, degrading and a desperate insult’ to workers who were considered to be nothing better than ‘yellow-packs.’
Yet, despite the contempt that wheezes like Gateway engendered, FG politicos continued to think their schemes were the bees’ knees.
Interesting too that in spite of the menial status that Fine Gael inflicted on decent men and women, as well as the exploitation, miserable wages and lack of any prospects, the work they did was beneficial to the local authority and community – which says a lot about the integrity and dignity of those participating in the schemes.
Our home-grown mini-minister, Jim Daly, has long been a proponent of getting the unemployed off the streets and he took credit for initially proposing the schemes back in 2010. Indeed, he boasts of having made work placements with Cork County Council a political priority in every election in which he participated.
He told this newspaper three years ago that it was not ‘demeaning’ to ask any able bodied person to work for their dole. It was far more demeaning to be handing out cheques every week without any expectation from the State of getting of anything in return.
Oddly enough, last year FG deputies came close to having first-hand experience of a type of Gateway. But, although the proposal came from the boss himself, the politicos recoiled with undisguised revulsion!
Taoiseach Enda Kenny proposed a ‘shadowing programme’ for FG backbenchers that would involve an arranged period of time to be spent with full-blown Government ministers as they went about their business in Dáil Éireann. The procedure was designed to lessen the disappointment of TDs wanting to influence government policy, but who did not secure a ministry. Kenny was sure ambitious backbenchers would appreciate the experience of learning what it was like to serve in Cabinet by observing the big lads.
He was wrong. They were horrified, and bellyached that he was ‘patronising’ them. (Mind you, those most offended by the ‘Gateway’ approach were that gang of conspirators who later ‘done-in’ the Great Leader).
Navy to the rescue
And now for something serious: according to Simon Coveney, the government has committed €61 million to Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour for use as a public park with sports fields, walkways and cycleways.
Haulbowline was once the site of Ireland’s dirtiest and most toxic industry, Irish Steel. The factory has since been removed, but a huge poisonous dump, known as the East Tip, remains.
But here’s the rub: the Office of Public Works has warned that Haulbowline is totally unsuitable as a public amenity because of the East Tip. It proposes that the Irish Steel site and toxic dump should be handed over in their entirety to the Fishery Protection Service (Naval Service) for military purposes!
Behan the painter!
Here’s a conundrum. If Brendan Behan had experienced JobBridge, Gateway or any the other ‘help-the-jobless’ ploys, would he have remained a house painter and never gone on to become a famous dramatist?
In 1950, Behan’s father, who had a contract to redecorate the interiors of the lighthouses, got a ‘nixer’ for son Brendan: painting the interior of St John’s Point Lighthouse in Co Down. He was a disaster.
Here is what the principal keeper, D. Blakely, wrote in a letter to Irish Lights regarding the expertise of Behan Jnr:
‘Sir, I have to report the painter B Behan absent from his work all day yesterday and not returning to station until 1.25am this morning. I have to report that his attitude here is one of careless indifference and no respect for Commissioners’ property or stores.
‘He is wilfully wasting materials, opening drums and paint tins by blows from a heavy hammer, spilling the contents, which is now running out of the paint store door. Drums of water-wash opened and exposed to the weather – paint brushes dirty and lying all-round the station – a no cleaning up of any mess but he tramps through everything. His language is filthy and he is not amenable to any law or order.
‘He has ruined the wall surface of one wall in No 1 Dwelling by burning. He mixes putty, paint, etc with his bare hands and wipes off nothing. The spare house which was clean and ready for painters has been turned into a filthy shambles inside a week. Empty stinking milk bottles, articles of food, coal, ashes and other debris litter the floor of the place which is now in a scandalous condition of dirt.
‘I invite any official of the Irish Lights to inspect this station and verify these statements.
‘He is the worst specimen I have met in 30 years’ service. I urge his dismissal from the job now before good material is rendered useless and the place ruined.’
Behan later explained that he took up writing because it was easier than house painting!