Delta variant rises as Irish government prepares to cut workers’ benefits
Last week, as the Delta variant of Covid continued to spread internationally, Ireland’s coalition of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party reluctantly postponed lifting the final phase of public health restrictions , scheduled for July 5, which would have seen the reopening of indoor restaurants and pubs.
The symbolic delay does not address the growing threat posed by the Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 50% of daily infections in Ireland.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), the body of health professionals who advise the government, warned last week of “a spike in deaths in August” with projections showing the infecting variant “thousands of people a day”. Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin, who heads the Irish coalition government, told Dáil (parliament): “I spoke (…) with Nicola Sturgeon, Prime Minister of Scotland and she used a phrase very telling. She said Delta would destroy an unvaccinated population. All their eggs are in the vaccination basket. “
Even that was too much for Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. The billionaire airline CEO called NPHET’s warnings a “scary variant” story in an open letter to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan. Earlier this year, O’Leary complained that NPHET was spreading disinformation, “scary stories” and stoking “mass hysteria” despite ample evidence that the hasty opening of travel restrictions contributed to the second wave of COVID.
As of July 1, there had been 5,000 deaths from Covid-19 in Ireland. As of Thursday, 448 other infections were reported, including 44 hospitalized and 14 in intensive care units. Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan warned Taoiseach Martin that despite the vaccination program, the “Delta Variant black cloud loomed as a clear threat … The increasing number of cases over the course of last week follows a pattern similar to that observed in a number of European countries. [intensivecareunitsChiefMedicalOfficerDrTonyHolohanwarnedTaoiseachMartinthatdespitethevaccinationprogrammethe’blackcloudoftheDeltavariantloomedasaclearthreatTheriseinthenumberofcasesinthepastweekisfollowingasimilarpatternthatisbeingseenacrossanumberofEuropeancountries’
Delta is proven to be 40 to 60 percent more infectious than the Alpha strain, previously the dominant variant in Ireland. Despite this, the government, with the broad support of Sinn Fein, the main parliamentary opposition, has opened up almost all workplaces and schools, playing with the lives of millions of workers for profit. Only around 44% of Irish adults have been fully vaccinated.
The strategy of corporations and the ruling elite is to push the lowest paid and most exploited workers back to work. These workers are mostly young and unvaccinated. The government is also aiming to recover from workers most of the enormous debt burden the state has accumulated during the pandemic.
In March, the European Commission reported that Ireland is expected to have accumulated a total public debt of € 241.6 billion for 2021, up almost 10% from 2020. This stands at € 48,291. this year per person, which is the highest in Europe. Union and higher than UK. It is expected to increase by an additional € 1,509 per person in 2022. Martin told a business function last week that “the level of government spending during the pandemic is” unsustainable “and must” take the next step. “.
The “next step” as described by Martin and other representatives of business interests will quickly appear as a huge attack on the standard of living and the rights of workers in order to keep the flow of profits. Last month, the government introduced a series of measures including cutting Covid-19 unemployment benefits, increases in taxes on the family home, lifting homeowners’ eviction restrictions introduced at the start of the pandemic and a drastic increase in the powers of the Gardaí (Police).
Last week, the Gardaí set up vehicle checkpoints (multi-agency vehicle checks) targeting recipients of social benefits, including the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). This payment was first introduced in March 2020, to compensate those who lost all of their jobs due to Covid-19. To force a full return to work, especially in low-paying jobs, the coalition government last month announced plans to end the PUP in September and November. Workers who only earn € 250 per week will see a reduction of € 50 to bring them back to a subsistence unemployment rate.
In June, as tens of thousands of workers returned to work in bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms, swimming pools, recreation centers, cinemas, theaters and more, a massive corporate media propaganda campaign pushed the lie that thousands of people falsely claiming PUP.
the Irish To post at Sunday, for example, featured on the front page a tribute to far-right businessman and owner of the Supermac chain, Pat McDonagh, who attacked the meager PUP payment to workers laid off by the pandemic. The title of the banner read: “The boss of Supermac:” Covid payments claimed by fraudsters “
As workers face immediate cuts to their benefits, as rent and mortgage debts pile up, the government has developed a host of programs benefiting businesses and the wealthy.
Earlier this month, the coalition presented a € 3.6 billion spending support package to boost the Irish economy in the form of new employer subsidies. Part of the package is an extension of the emergency wage subsidy scheme introduced in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic which provides a flat-rate subsidy to employers. These latest generous grants to businesses add to a long list of grants and loans now estimated at 8.5 billion euros.
Danny McCoy, CEO of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC), Ireland’s largest lobby and business group, welcomed the gift, telling the Irish time, “The focus must now be on activating the labor market and getting workers back to work safely as quickly as possible. “
As corporate donations reach billions, poverty worsens in the working class. A new Oxfam report shows Irish billionaire fortunes have increased by € 3.3 billion since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Jim Clarken, CEO of Oxfam Ireland, recently told RTE News that “a wealthy elite is safely overcoming the pandemic, while those on the front lines struggle to pay the bills and put food on Table”. In Ireland, the employment fallout from the pandemic has disproportionately affected young adults as well as those in low-paid jobs, all of whom are more likely to pay rent ”.
The latest figures from advocacy group Social Justice Ireland predict that due to the pandemic, the unemployment rate will rise by the end of this year to 390,000, or 16.1% of the workforce. This is well above the highest rate recorded during the banking crash and economic crisis of 2008, when unemployment in Ireland peaked at 14.6%.
The Irish establishment and financial elite political parties as represented by Micheál Martin’s coalition could not function without the tactical support of Sinn Féin, the main bourgeois opposition party. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald once again proved herself a safe bet for the establishment and the financial elite when she spoke at Dáil last Wednesday. She limited her remarks on the crisis to the fact that the government was simply “unfair” to “young people”. Now is the time to stop pretending to talk to young people, listen to them and respond to their needs. I ask you to treat young people fairly, “said McDonald”