Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Enumerating a Hidden Ireland

I’ve been very struck in the past few days listening to the stories of census enumerators on Liveline. Archived shows can be heard here for the next 7 days.

There are frequently pieces debunking notions of consistent or relative poverty in the Irish media and the blogosphere. The massive undertaking that is the conduct of National Census has give us a more qualitative illustration of the dichotomy that exists in Irish society.  Whilst I am sure the survey results themselves will provide for interesting analysis it is the things that happen or are seen when the call to the door is made that are catching public attention.

What census enumerators are reporting are tales of the hidden Ireland. Houses without electricity, heat or running water or houses in such poor condition that they should be declared unsafe. Older people living in these poor conditions where they don’t meet or talk to anyone from one week to the next and are very often living in fear of anyone calling to their house. Postmen are also calling talking about the situations that they encounter when delivering mail.  

Enumerators also highlighted the situations observed involving immigrant workers living in poor conditions, 10 to a house and the employers who move workers on when they find that enumerators are calling. This situation is not just in rural areas but in cities also. Others living in private rented accommodation or very old houses that they can’t afford to maintain are also calling in talking about the vicious cycle of poverty that they find themselves in.

Now enumerators can do very little about this, they just take the cup of tea that’s offered, try not to look around at the poor living conditions and get their form filled in. They have talked about the hospitality from those who have nothing and the hostility from the gated communities a half mile down the road.

What of Bertie’s call to active citizenship in all this? Callers trying to provide solutions to the situation have indicated that neighbours commuting 3 or more hours a day to work are too exhausted to call in on their elderly or disabled neighbour to offer friendship or assistance. And the fact that people don’t know their neighbours anymore must contribute to the isolation also? Gardai not knowing or living in their patch, postal services being cut back and the professionalisation of charity work and increased pressures placed on health and social services all contribute to the fact that these situations are not seen or talked about publicly. The statistics produced by the CSO or the ESRI will also not reflect the poverty experienced in this manner. And the people effected are unlikely to vote – but maybe those who feel powerless to help will?


At 12:32, Anonymous Sean R said...

Hi Suzy

Yeah I heard the item too. I'm not surprised by the tales of enumerators but I am glad those people stepped forward with their experiential stories. Telling stories matters all the more today.

The rapid social change with this fecky tiger [about which many media and political commentators tend to wax lyrical] has also brought about a set of miserable cultural consequences about which it seems increasingly problematic politically to speak/write. We're enchanted by progress.

At 14:55, Blogger Red Mum said...

What I find mad is that people are only realising that there are people living in abject poverty in Ireland.

Joe Duffy covered this topic again today (Thursday) and funnily enough I was talking about it with a pal last night and many people do not realise at all the poverty out there, my pal being one.

And its not like the information isn't out there, it is, in Barnardos etc, etc.

It feels that for many because they are doing alright, so is everyone else. Quite simply that is not true.

At 22:10, Anonymous Ianmcg said...

I'ts almost as if there is a general consensus that we all did so well out of the Celtic Tiger that sure people couldn't be living in poverty and sure we're all so well off nowadays


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