Another day, another RTÉ programme about the awfulness of Limerick.
In ‘Ireland’s Health Divide’, Dr Eva Orsmond investigated the disturbing fact that children born in poverty in Ireland will die on average six years earlier than children born into affluence.
To emphasise this, camera crews travelled to Limerick. I’m not sure why they bothered, as they have hours, days even, of footage of horses, traps and burnt-out houses already.
When they arrive in Limerick – it’s lashing rain, of course – the images include betting shops, overflowing bins and grazing horses. When they return to Dublin – it’s gloriously sunny, of course – the camera cycles through leafy suburbs, immaculate mansions and expensive cars.
The relentless stereotyping of Limerick aside, the issues raised in the programme were important. Moyross was identified as the most deprived community in all of Ireland, based on a range of statistics including the unemployment rate, single parent ratio and level of education. The message was a stark reminder that despite the myriad job announcements, development plans and cultural events we’re so proud of, there’s a section of our society – only a couple of kilometres from our office – who is being left behind.
In his column this week, Martin Mullins refers to a Tasc report which “indicated that Ireland is the most unequal country in the EU when it comes to how the economy distributes income, before taxes and social welfare payments are included.” This is especially true in our own city, which manages to simultaneously have the second highest net disposable income as well as the some of the worst employment black spots in the country.
In this week’s Focus, we set out to look at that dichotomy within our own city, to examine the reasons behind the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots in Limerick. It is an issue that is centuries-old; this edition’s Limerick Through the Ages charts agrarian unrest in the county, in which poor sharecroppers and labourers objected, quite understandably, to barely surviving in thatched shacks while wealthy landlords, farmers and clergymen reveled in luxurious accommodation next door.
Sharon Slater also highlights a dark period in our history, in which women were kidnapped – and often sexually assaulted – by men who forced them into marriage. One Limerick victim, Kate Moloney, was accused in 1847 of being complicit in her assault. It is hard to believe that some 170 years later, victims are still being blamed for the evils that are done to them, even by senior broadcasters on major radio stations.
Mary O’Keeffe addresses this issue in her column, in which she says that “language shapes our environment”, and can be dangerous, especially if “it allows for the displacement of blame onto the victim, and for the attacker to bypass their conscience. ‘She wanted it’ or ‘she was asking for it’ are phrases that have not died out yet, unfortunately.” And nor will they, if we continue to allow these messages to be heard on the national airwaves.