State pension rates below official poverty line February 2, 2017Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Human Rights, Inequality.
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There was plenty of coverage today of the numbers of people living in poverty, following the publication of the latest official data by the Central Statistics Office. (Coverage here, here, here and here; CSO press release here & full report here.) Some of the reports mentioned the fact that the figures, which are for 2015, show that economic inequality decreased that year.
Understandably, the comments focused on the specific report that the CSO published today. But a telling detail is revealed if you combine the information in the CSO’s report with the information in a second document, the ‘SW19’ booklet for 2015 (the same year that the CSO report covers) from the Department of Social Protection (PDF, 76 pages here). The SW19 booklet sets out the rates and bands for all social welfare payments.
Comparing the data in the two documents shows that only two social basic welfare payments were enough to give an individual recipient a basic income that was higher than the state’s official measure for being at risk of poverty. (I am counting about 17 types of payment as ‘basic’ though somebody else doing this exercise could argue that more of them should be classified this way.) By ‘basic’, I mean the ‘headline’ rate of payment for an individual in their own right, and not including some standard top-ups (like the fuel, gas or electricity allowances, or increases for adults or children who are dependent on the recipient).
The threshold — chosen by the government — for defining somebody as being at risk of poverty is 60% of the median equivalised income. I won’t go into what that means here. However, the CSO report shows us in the first row of the first table of data that, in 2015, the annual median equivalised income in Ireland was €20,000 (unusually, a round number). 60% of that is €12,000, which converts to a weekly income of €230.77 — below that, and the State says you are at risk of poverty.
The highest old age pension in 2015 was just short of that poverty line, at €230.30. You were eligible for this — the ‘State Pension (Contributory)’ if you had paid PRSI (of the right type) for an average of 48 weeks each year you worked. If you hadn’t paid stamps, the highest pension you could get was €219.00 (the ‘State Pension (Non-Contributory)’). The maximum Widow’s, Widower’s or Surviving Civil Partner’s Contributory Pension was €193.50. The non-contributory equivalent had a maximum of €188.00
If you were on the dole, the maximum basic individual payment you received was €188.00, for both Jobseeker’s Benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance. The same rate applied to Farm Assist. (There is also a pretend Fish Assist scheme that isn’t actually a separate scheme.)
The maximum Disablement Benefit was €219.00, the maximum Disability Allowance was €188.00
And so on, through page after page in SW19, where almost all payments are below the key value of €230.77.
The exceptions? One is the Carer’s Allowance (if you’re caring for somebody over 66), where the maximum payment is €239 if you’re looking after one person and €358.50 if you’re looking after more than one person. But that means you are doing a full-time job of caring for somebody. And the maximum Guardian’s Payment was €161.00 per orphan, so caring for two orphans would bring you over the poverty line — but that doesn’t count because the Payment is to be used for the orphans.
Marriage referendum: The kids will be fine May 6, 2015Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Human Rights, Inequality, Marriage equality.
[Update: in the comments, CMI1991 points out that I misread the 67 percent figure I cite — and badly. I apologise for that, though my underlying point remains valid.]
It looks like children will be key in the marriage referendum. The last Red C poll (PDF here) showed a combination of views that must cause some anxiety in both campaign HQs: support for the referendum was at 68 percent, but 67 percent agreed with the statement “It is inappropriate for children to be raised by gay couples”.
The standard Yes Equality response so far has been to point out that legally, the referendum is not about children, that legal issues concerning them have already been dealt with in the Children and Family Relationships Act which will still require that the best interest of the child is the primary criterion when it comes to applying the act to parenting, guardianship, adoption, and so on, whether the referendum passes or not.
At a meeting last week I watched an exchange between a representative of Yes Equality and a woman unhappy with same-sex couples becoming parents, in this case through surrogacy (though that was not her only concern). The Yes Equality representative thanked the woman for asking the question, and for doing so at a meeting where she was in a minority, and then he answered her question. He outlined the legal situation with surrogacy (unregulated, it happens), and that the government will be free to regulate surrogacy — including introducing a total ban if it chooses — whether the referendum is passed or not. He also that the reality is that in Ireland surrogacy is availed of mainly by different-sex couples, not same-sex couples.
If there were a textbook for this campaign, it would be a textbook Yes Equality answer: it was polite and respectful, and it provided accessible legal analysis and empirical evidence which showed that the woman’s concern was misplaced. But yet, but yet … I came away thinking it was missing something.
The May issue of Alive! has an article which highlights that missing element. The article — the Media Watch column — asks about the right of children ‘to be brought up, as far as possible, by a mother and father’. Actually, it’s not true that children have such a right. The previous week, Conor O’Mahony, a lecturer in child law and constitutional law at UCC, had tweeted that he had ‘Been searching legal databases all afternoon for a law that gives children a legal right to a mother and father. Results: zero‘. But even though it’s not true, it feels like it could be or ought to be. And that’s because it appeals to our emotions. There is a world of a difference between ‘a right to a mother and father’ and ‘a right to your mother and father’. For the fortunate majority of us, the latter concerns real people, and the feelings we have for our mother or our father — and for both in most cases — are a hugely important and positive part of our life. It is easy to slide from that positive felling most of us have about growing up with our mother and father, via a false claim about a non-existent universal right, to believing that both a mother and father are an essential part of a healthy, loving childhood. However, not only is not a human right: the empirical evidence shows that to grow up loved cared for and develop and mature does not require the presence of both a mother and father; and the empirical evidence also shows that growing up with same-sex parents does not affect a child’s well-being or development.
The no side — Mothers and Fathers Matter and the Irish Catholic Bishops in particular — have appealed to voters’ feelings (both positive and negative); on the question of children, Yes Equality has appealed to their reason, hoping that the legal analysis and empirical evidence will be enough to persuade voters who have concerns about children. A month before polling day, Red C found that 67 percent were not making that connection, and two and a half weeks before it, Senator Katherine Zappone said it is hard for people she is talking to to move beyond the traditional concept of family.
It is ironic that campaign formed by and led by lesbian and gay people should be struggling to get this message across. So many of us who are gay have deep personal experience of the conflict between feelings and reason in the period before we came out, and we had to let go of our deeply held fear. A challenge for our leaders in the next two weeks is to see if they can find a way to encourage and help enough of the 67 percent to make a similar step and let go of their irrational fears. The task is to ensure enough voters realise that the kids will be fine.
Wealth, inherited and otherwise… March 17, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Inequality.
…of the five wealthiest families in the UK, as determined by Oxfam – whose wealth is equal to or greater than the poorest 20% of the UK population, it’s perhaps notable that two of that five come from long extant wealth. Whether any are exactly self-made is a bit of an open question. Perhaps Mike Ashley? It would be useful to see stats on those beyond the five.
Defining homophobia February 9, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Inequality, LGBT.
Last Sunday, in a comment, I posted the video of Panti’s Noble Call made the previous evening at the Abbey Theatre. (See @pantibliss on Twitter.) At the time, WorldbyStorm suggested it should be made a full post in its own right. In that week, it has attracted a lot of attention: Channel 4 News and BBC News reported on it, Madonna sent a message to Panti about it, and Stephen Fry tweeted about it. The attention still grows: today, Labi Siffre commented about it on twitter. It has, as I write, been viewed 418,867 times on Rory O’Neill’s YouTube page*.
As suggested, I post it, on the front page and not buried in a comment, but I also take the opportunity to offer a view on its context.
I watched it again a few times over the last week. As I did that, I was struck with two similarities between what Panti says and the work of feminists in the 1960s and 1970s.
A key element of feminism in the 1970s was consciousness raising. In apartments or in rooms over pubs, women would meet to discuss their experiences of oppression as a woman. “Would everybody please give me an example from their own life on how they experienced oppression as a woman? I need to hear it to raise my own consciousness.” Panti’s speech did that, although not in somebody’s sitting room with a small group of fellow gay people. Like the feminists four decades ago, Panti talks about experiences — as a gay man in his case — and seeks to identify what about them is oppressive. He wasn’t the only one this week to do so. In the Dáil on Thursday evening John Lyons spoke about being verbally abused a few weeks ago when he went to the corner shop, and Jerry Buttimer told the Dáil that he has been beaten, spat on, chased and mocked because he is gay.
But what distinguished Panti’s contribution from those of John Lyons and Jerry Buttimer was that Panti named the small, social, intimate, personal effect of the homophobia that he has lived through.
Have you ever been on a crowded train with your gay friend and a small part of you is cringing because he is being so gay and you find yourself trying to compensate by butching up or nudging the conversation onto “straighter” territory? This is you who have spent 35 years trying to be the best gay possible and yet still a small part of you is embarrassed by his gayness.
And I hate myself for that.
Those two paragraphs combine that consciousness raising with a second key achievement of the feminist movement: redefining our understanding of the world. In feminism, this has been most obvious in the legal field. Rape was re-defined because of the work of feminists. Feminists’ work led to ‘sex discrimination’ being redefined to include sexual harassment.
Similarly to feminists of the 1970s, Rory O’Neill has asserted what homophobia means, based on his lived experience. That does not fit with the Iona Institute’s insistence on using a dictionary. For them, the key question is not the experience of the victim but the mind of the perpetrator: they do not hate gay people; therefore they are not homophobic. But Rory O’Neill’s understanding does fit with the experience of gay people.
The legal concept of sexual harassment has been taken up in EU and Irish law. In Ireland and the rest of the European Union, it is defined as action that “has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person”.** Those words “or effect” are an important principle that need to be claimed and applied to homophobia.
Rory O’Neill claimed them and applied them. If the Iona case or the Waters case go to court, I hope his Rory’s lawyers can use that legal principle to defend Rory.
Let me tell you a story about me. In December, I took my ten-year-old niece Christmas shopping. It’s an annual ritual. After hours of wandering from shop to shop, we went for food. She asked if she could ask me a question, and I said yes. And then she said, nah, it was ok. I said, no, don’t be embarrassed, go ahead and ask. If it’s too nosey, I’ll tell you.
So she asked: When I was in school, had people said bad things to me because I was gay? Here, in this post, you could see that coming, but on that Sunday in December I didn’t — our focus doing the shopping was whether it was Granny or Nana who would like a new scarf. And I fluffed it.
In school, I wasn’t out, so there never was a specific homophobic incident directed at me. That did not occur until later, when I was a postgraduate student and out. But I did feel the homophobia in school — you couldn’t be openly gay then; how it was seen as so weird that any of us who were gay thought we were the only ones. And I didn’t explain that to my niece. Nor did I tell her about the two attacks that did occurr years later after I had left school (like Rory O’Neill’s milk carton, both minor incidents physically).
And I hate myself for that.
[*In the two hours and eighteen minutes I spent typing this and chasing down the links, that has gone up to 420,822.]
[**To prevent any misunderstanding, I am not saying that that law applies to public debate on policy issues. However, it does apply in employment and for students in our schools, among other areas, in relation to sexual orientation and other grounds.]
Marriage Equality — Distracting our attention February 6, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Crazed nonsense..., Human Rights, Inequality, Irish Politics, LGBT.
Did you see what David Quinn and Senator Rónán Mullen did there?
They’re like bad magicians, trying to distract the audience — in their case from Panti’s critique on RTÉ (transcript here; 3-minute video here) of the ethos of their case against lifting the ban on same-sex marriage.
David Quinn used his column in the Irish Independent on 31 January to ask if we can have a respectful debate on same-sex marriage. He opened his column with extracts from four emails he has received that contained very nasty suggestions about what the sender wanted him to do or to happen to him.
Then on Wednesday of this week, Senator Mullen asked in the Seanad if GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) would disassociate itself from Panti’s statement on RTÉ. (Broadsheet’s 50-second video clip of Senator Mullen’s contribution is here.)
While not explicitly naming David Quinn or his Iona colleagues, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte was clearly thinking of them when he said, also on 31 January, that those who enter the arena of public debate cannot expect that Queensbury Rules will always apply. Well, the column by David Quinn and speech by Senator Mullen demonstrate they they, at least, do not in fact play by Queensbury Rules.
Private emails with nasty and unpleasant messages are not part of the debate. Nobody is swayed by them. They are, simply, nasty and unpleasant emails to you from individuals who are angry or sad, or both . Putting them in the public domain makes them part of a debate, but not the debate — on whether the ban on same-sex marriage should be lifted.
GLEN, whom Senator Mullen acknowledged is respectful, did not and does not put into the public domain the nasty emails and letters it receives. Neither does Marriage Equality, and neither does BeLonG To, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth service.
There can be times and ways to draw attention to the nasty underside of — to use Minister Rabbitte’s phrase — entering the arena. But when public opinion has lit up in rage that you have received compensation because a drag queen (oh, the irony — a drag queen!) pulls you up on the basic value you espouse in the actual debate, bringing up the work of sad individuals who oppose you serves to distract.
Sadly, the technique adopted by David Quinn and Senator Mullen is not simply an attempt to distract. It is also distinctly cynical and unpleasant: it attempts bring guilt by association to the case for lifting the ban on same-sex marriage.
 If emails go beyond being unpleasant to being genuinely threatening, then the place to bring them is the Gardaí, but in fairness, David Quinn did not suggest any sense of threat to his safety, so it is reasonable to assume that is not relevant to this discussion.
Le Monde Diplomatique: “The corporation invasion” December 21, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Capitalism, Economy, Environment, Inequality, International Finance, The Far Right.
Readers might be interested in this article in Le Monde Diplomatique
Imagine what would happen if foreign companies could sue governments directly for cash compensation over earnings lost because of strict labour or environmental legislation. This may sound far-fetched, but it was a provision of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), a projected treaty negotiated in secret between 1995 and 1997 by the then 29 member states of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) (1). News about it got out just in time, causing an unprecedented wave of protests and derailing negotiations.
Now the agenda is back. Since July the European Union and the United States have been negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), a modified version of the MAI under which existing legislation on both sides of the Atlantic will have to conform to the free trade norms established by and for large US and EU corporations, with failure to do so punishable by trade sanctions or the payment of millions of dollars in compensation to corporations.
And why haven’t you heard of it?
The TTIP/TAFTA negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. The US delegations have more than 600 corporate trade advisers, who have unlimited access to the preparatory documents and to representatives of the US administration. Draft texts will not be released, and instructions have been given to keep the public and press in the dark until a final deal is signed. By then, it will be too late to change.
The full article is available here: http://mondediplo.com/2013/12/02tafta
The choice of a referendum on same-sex marriage November 25, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Inequality, LGBT.
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The cabinet has decided to hold a referendum in 2015 to lift the ban on same-sex marriage.
Over on Human Rights in Ireland, Fiona de Londras raises two interesting questions that deserve attention:
- why are we having a referendum in the first place? and
- what is the personal and social cost of a referendum?
de Londras, formerly of UCD Law School and now at Durham University, argues that it is not certain that a referendum is needed. Instead of going straight to a referendum to amend the constitution, she suggests an alternative route that might avoid a referendum. That route is:
(1) pass an Act to that repeals section 2(2)(e) of the Civil Registration Act 2004;
(2) have that Act referred to the Supreme Court.
Section 2(2) of the civil Registration Act names five impediments to a legal marriage, listed (a) to (e); item (e) is “both parties are of the same sex“.
The President has the power under Article 26 to refer a Bill that has been passed by the Oireachtas to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. That process is time-bound, and would therefore produce a result quickly. If the Supreme Court finds that Bill to delete section 2(2)(e) is constitutional, the ban on same-sex marriage would have been lifted without a referendum. If, on the other hand, the Supreme Court rules against the amendment to the Act, then the proposal to amend the Constitution it can proceed. However, it is not necessary to go directly to a constitutional amendment.
Her second point is why that route whould be preferred.
Referenda in Ireland are divisive things; this is, perhaps, in their nature, and divisiveness in social discourse is not something to shy away from unnecessarily. However, that divisiveness is also not cost-free, and particularly not for the people whose rights and capacity to ‘belong’ within social institutions are being debated. There will be a social cost to this referendum. LGB people in Ireland will have to debate with neighbours and family members and try to convince them to acknowledge us as equal citizens in our own country. We will see, hear and read claims that we are somehow not deserving of the institutional, legal and social recognitions that come with the right to access marriage.
That will be harmful. The harms will vary; it may harm me by simply being hurtful, but what harm might it do to the mid-fifties farmer who never had the confidence to come out, or the person subjected to homophobic bullying in the workplace, or the 14-year old who thinks she might be lesbian? People are resilient, and will bear this harm I’m sure. Indeed, the harm will, I imagine, be lessened should the referendum succeed. But this does not mean that it will not exist.
de Londras’s concern is not theoretical. An acquaintance of mine commented last week that she, her partner and their two sons will not be answering the call from lgb organisations for families to participate in the campaign:
Full marriage really affect my family more than most, but I have no intention of making my wife or children the poster people for it.
Awkward question on trans rights. November 18, 2013Posted by Tomboktu in Gender Issues, Human Rights, Inequality, LGBT Rights.
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The government was asked last week to explain what it is doing to recognise transgendered people’s rights. The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) included a question on the issue to the State in its list of issues it wants Ireland to explain at the periodoc review next year of Ireland’s obligations under the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights.
It is now six years since the High Court found that Irish law breaches European human rights standards on the right of a transgender person to obtain a birth certificate in their true gender. That was followed by a government decision to set up an advisory group — consisting of civil servants — to prepare a report, which was published in July 2011. (My post on that is here.)
It took a further two years to produce the Heads of Bill, in July 2013.
The HRC has asked the government to provide “detailed information on the steps taken to issue birth certificates to transgendered persons” (Link to Word document here). The government will have plenty of “outputs” to report to the Human Rights Committee:
- the establishment of the advisory group,
- publication of its report,
- decision of cabinet on the heads of bill,
- publication of heads of bill, and
- discussion of them by the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection.
It would not surprise me to see the Oireachtas Committee put under some backroom pressure to get a report of its hearings out so that there is another “output” by the time the HRC holds its hearings.
I hope the HRC puts the Irish officials who appear before it under close scrutiny about a new clause it introduced between the publication of a the report of the advisory committee and the publication of the heads of bill. That provision would allow sporting organisations to prohibit trans people from participating in some acivities. Now, there are pros and cons in such a provision, but their introduction into the heads of bill stinks. It has nothing to do with the issuing of a new birth certificate and the processes and requirements for that, and lies well outside the expertise of the Department of Social Protection. It amounts to a change in anti-discrimination law, although is not framed as such. Tellingly, the Department of Social Protection introduced a new proposal to allow discrimination in one area because of a person’s gender identity or the fact that they are transgendered without addressing the need for proposals to prohibit discrimination in other areas. I would not be surprised if it were dropped during the passage of the bill as a “concession” to trans people while leaving the core proposals that are hurtful and demonstrate a lack of any understanding by the drafters of the human cost of what they say should be enacted into law.
The second question that the HRC has asked will provide not so much an opportunity as a need for weasling by the State. The HRC asks “how transgender organizations have been included in such process, including in relation to the Gender Recognition Bill”. No doubt, the government will tell the Human Rights Committee that TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) made a submission to the advisory group which was considered in preparing the final report, and has appeared before the Oireachtas to speak about the issue a number of times. They will probably also refer to the “engagement” with trans organisations by the Minister when she spoke at the Transgender Europe conference in Dublin in 2012.
I expect that the Department’s reply to the HRC will not record that
- the advisory committee did not include a single representative of trans people,
- the report and heads of bill do not comply with European human rights standard and
- the Minister has refused to meet TENI herself.
I hope the officials are called to account on that and squirm while explaining their approach.
* — ** — ** — ** — ** — ** — ** — *
TENI’s submission to the Human Rights Committee sets out in stark terms why action is needed, and needed urgently, and why the Government’s leisurely pace is itself an offence.
(a) Access to services: Formal, legal recognition of one’s identity – by the issuance of an accurate and correct birth certificate – is the gateway for enjoying numerous foundational rights in Ireland. Irish transgender persons who, on the basis of their expressed gender identity, seek to avail of important public services are frequently denied access because the Irish state only recognises the sex and identity assigned to them at birth. In Ireland, obtaining, inter alia, social security, Personal Public Service Numbers and marriage certificates all require the presentation of a birth certificate. The failure of the Irish state to issue new birth certificates to transgender persons means that, in order to access these foundational services, transgender people must present an official document stating that they are somebody other than their true self. Transgender people in Ireland cannot access services on the basis of their self-identified gender, even if they have lived in that gender for the greater part of their life.
The current legal situation creates an impossible and unfair choice for Irish transgender persons: the right to self-determination and dignity, or economic survival. Some transgender individuals ultimately decide to forgo their most basic rights because of the impossibility of presenting in a gender identity not their own. Others choose to access services on the basis of their birth-assigned identity and frequently confront widespread bigotry and discrimination.
(b) Restrictions on travel: The failure of the Irish state to issue new birth certificates restricts the ability of transgender people to travel. In this regard, journeys aboard can be particularly challenging. The 2008 Passports Act gives a transgender person the right to apply for a passport with their correct gender marker. However, the fact that a person’s birth certificate will not match the passport they are requesting means that issuing passports has, despite the existence of a clear legal right, become inconsistent and arbitrary. TENI has worked with people who have had difficulty obtaining a new passport. A transgender male who attempted to access a new passport but was told that not enough time had passed since his transition to apply for a passport with the male gender marker. When the individual tried to reapply with a female gender marker, he was told that he would need to provide “proof of use” of his female gender marker. In addition, many trans people are forced to pay the cost of a ten-year passport in order to obtain a two-year passport.
(c) Discrimination by state and non-state actors: Lack of recognition legitimises discrimination. Examples of prejudice which transgender persons experience from state actors include inappropriate and degrading questions, refusals to respect expressed gender identity and wilful misunderstanding. A transgender woman told TENI how, while attending a community care clinic, a member of staff had insisted upon loudly and publically calling her by her former male name. The individual recalled how “the room was packed and the laughing and comments were unbearable.” One woman received a phone call from Social Welfare querying her change of name and gender. She explained her transition, and the government agent laughed, said ‘You’ll never be a woman!’ and then hung up. (TENI has heard several similar accounts from people across Ireland.) An Irish transgender woman returning from abroad recalled how her letters to update her Irish bank account and Social Welfare with her change of gender and name were ignored: “The Social Welfare Department sent me a tax certificate in my old male name and informed my new employer of the details.”
(d) Detrimental effect on young people: The failure to issue a new birth certificate may have an especially negative impact on transgender youth. Transgender youth are particularly vulnerable to peer bullying. The perpetuation of young transgender persons’ exclusion through the failure to legally recognise their gender identity reinforces the stress and isolation which Irish transgender youth often feel. TENI has documented the story of a young transgender male who is surrounded by supportive family and friends. However, he is currently required to wear a skirt into school each day because his Principal does not recognise his gender identity.
The refusal to issue new birth certificates also creates significant difficulties for transgender students in applying for university in Ireland. Transgender people regularly miss out on college placements, as the Central Applications Office (CAO), the body responsible for assigning university places in Ireland, is unable to cope with transgender identities. One student transitioned and subsequently decided to re-sit his Leaving Certificate Exam (Ireland’s end-of-secondary-level-education national exam). He gained the required grades for his chosen course of study. The grade the student achieved for English in his first examination results should have been carried over and added to his results the second time he sat the exam. However, the CAO noted the discrepancy in name and gender and assumed an error had been made. In such cases, the CAO office dismisses the application without query. The young man missed out on his college place. TENI has heard of several such cases.
The Government’s Draft Heads of Bill for gender recognition excludes people under the age of 18 from applying for the rights contained within. This is in conflict with the recently passed Children’s Referendum, where the Irish people voted to amend Article 42A of the Constitution to read: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.”
The Careless State April 5, 2013Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Inequality.
The Rise of Neoliberalism and its Impact on Inequality.