August 2008: Mary’s Contrary Bank Antics

It didn’t take them long to stick the boot in. Memories of the good old bad-old-Eighties came flooding back as contrary Mary Hanafin appeared on our telly screens this week, like a modern-day made-up version of Charlie McCreevy, talking about her proposed new bank antics.

Now, there was a time when we expected the unemployed to get the boot from the boys in the Dáil. It was part of our heritage, almost, going back to the black days of the seventies when nobody had a job. Those in the dole queue were lined up like skittles to be knocked over by unsympathetic political bowlers.

But there was a certain romance about signing on the dole in the last recession. Back then, men introduced their eighteen year old sons to the nice ladies in the dole office when they reached manhood. Thereafter, it was expected that they would spend their days queuing up, following in the family tradition of “signing on”. Then the Celtic Tiger rose and our traditional values fell.

No more were there lines of people outside the dole office, waiting patiently for their turn, puffing on fags and chatting with others like themselves. Of course there were those of us who ignored the Tiger’s roar in the backwash of society, unable to face this brave new world. We included amongst us the depressed and the demented, the drug-dependent and deluded. They remained with all the failed priests, failed poets and failed politicians.

But our lives improved. No longer did you have to sign on once a week through an unwanted visit to your local Garda Station, where the sergeant waited for you, issuing a summons for your unlicenced dog, before letting you sign your slip and go in peace. Now, we only had to hop into the welfare once a month and sign on the dotted line.

No longer did we have to collect our money in cash in the dole office itself (that is if we were lucky that the office had not been robbed by the Provos that day). Now we could go to the post office and collect it. Even better still, we could get our money paid into a bank account, if we had one, and withdraw it whenever we liked. We could take out at a fiver a day, every day, if we wanted. We could pretend that

we had a job and, therefore, loads of money by doing that. We were part of the brave new world, despite ourselves.

In fact, things got so good that nobody knew we were on the dole at all.  A quick monthly visit to the dole and we were free men until the next signing day. People treated us the same as a working man and our dirty little secret was safe. We managed to avoid the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger and we preserved our twentieth century culture with pride.

Everybody forgot about us and life was easy. Ireland had “full employment” we heard, economists accepting that the 4% of us that stayed on the dole were a natural thing in any society. Naturally, we concurred with this view. So we went back to drinking and writing poetry and speaking at parish pumps.

Suddenly, all hell has broken loose. Building work stopped, construction crews disbanded and immigrants climbed over each other to get on the next plane out of this country. And our comfortable little world has been invaded by the newly unemployed, men and women who don’t even know what a Butter Voucher was. With them, they have brought attention back onto us and we are caught in the spotlight.

Mary Hanafin reacted to the appeal for savings that Brian Cowan made last week by announcing that her department was cutting back on our easy lives. Under the guise of catching a few immigrants who have decided that their ties with this country were too strong to stop claiming social welfare, even though they are now back with their families in mainland Europe, Mary has withdrawn the privileges of letting us get our benefits paid into the bank.

The argument is that ten per cent of two thousands claimants were getting paid while not living in Ireland. I would like to know how many of that sample were true Irishmen, born and bred on the dole in the good old days. I’m willing to bet you won’t find that any of us would even contemplate such a 21st Century type of fraud.

Personally, I blame Michael O’Leary and his cheap flights for all this. In any case, Mary the contrary reckons that we should all go back to the good old bad-old-Eighties style of doing things, just because of these few fly-by-nights. She has us queuing up again, this time to get our money out the post office. She is hoping that we will go away and thus save our spendthrift government some money, as well as face.

She has banned the use of modern technology, on-line shopping, laser purchases,

bank links and the rest by the unemployed. She has ruined the civilised status that we Dolemen have worked so hard to achieve. Has she no respect for us? Of course, she hasn’t. But we are made of sterner stuff than she thinks. We will call her bluff. Better ministers than her have tried to chase us away.

Contrary Mary should leave us old Dolemen alone. After all, I’m trying to build up a good credit rating and not getting my dole paid directly into the bank will do me no favours at all with my bank manager. Of course, it could all be a cunning plan on the part of the government to keep the rural post offices open, couldn’t it?

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