The previous two cuts to child benefit had registered somewhere in my consciousness, enough to distract me momentarily from those all-consuming early days of new motherhood. Warnings of a possible third cut sounded just as I emerged from political ‘hibernation’.
I was incredulous, ‘how could they do this, don’t they know how hard this is anyway?!’ Experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood really brought home to me Ireland’s poor record in regard to the republic’s treatment of mothers, children and women.
It seemed so clear, as we heard everyone’s views, except mothers’ that is, on why child benefit was a luxury we could no longer afford, why should we pay for other people’s children, or to keep yummy mummies in skinny lattes, or as Michael O’Leary put it, ‘a subsidy to have sex’, that mothers, and women, are just invisible.
So I wrote letters to my TDs and turned up to constituency surgeries, and I shared all this on Facebook, which if you are stuck at home for large periods of time with a two year old is probably the easiest way to make contact with other like-minded mothers.
Lobbying Ciaran Lynch, Labour TD for Cork South Central was quite soul destroying as a life-long Labour supporter and the low-point of the last few weeks. Lynch seemed quite happy to support a 10% cut in child benefit and to do away with the principle of universality, oh and apparently the Labour Party never had any business making pre-election pledges!
But it was also a moment of clarity too – if women were really this invisible, maybe it was time to abandon the politicians and take to the streets, and with two year old in tow we joined hundreds of families at the Cork ‘Parade in Defiance of Austerity’ on Saturday 3rd December.
Other unexpected heartening moments came from Facebook and the feminist networks. A lone parent from Dublin has been filling me in on the newly formed Irish Single Parents Fight Back campaign (see their Facebook page), they have already organised a protest in Dublin on Friday 9th December and yesterday (Wednesday 14th December) they launched their campaign by protesting outside Joan Burton’s office at the Ministry for Social Protection.
It is apparent from comments on the Irish Single Parents Fight Back Facebook page that childcare and transport costs mean that not all those lone parents who want to participate can do so, but at least they can support the campaign online and a Galway support group has just been set-up.
Maybe we need to look to our feminist heritage for inspiration too. In 1971 the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement burst onto the political scene with their headline grabbing media stunts and demanded, amongst other things, justice for deserted wives, unmarried mothers and widows.
It is out of this period that important changes in Irish family law were won; women could claim children’s allowance in their own name and separated, deserted and single mothers qualified for a social welfare allowance.
Women have only made these gains when we have refused to remain invisible and its encouraging that, despite the present attacks on lone parents and larger families in particular, mothers are overcoming huge obstacles and fighting back.
College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences PhD Scholar
University College Cork