Yesterday, Minister for Social Protection and would-be Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that it would be not possible to confiscate Church property.
“Governments can only operate within the law. In our Constitution there are enshrined property rights and it is not in the power of the Government to confiscate anyone’s property,” he said.
Last week, Varadkar made Sunday paper headlines. He claimed that in order to retain “public support for Europe”, child benefit, paid to the children of people living and working in Ireland, ought to match the benefit rate of the country where the child resides.
That is, if you have left your family in Poland or Romania, and are working in Ireland, where your labour produces income for the exchequer and wealth for your employer, your children are not entitled to the same payments as the children of your Irish co-workers, who most likely live with their parents, unlike yours, and to whose education you contribute through the tax system here.
Money, of course, is a form of property. By taking away money from families with members who live and work in Ireland, not only are you helping to create categories of super-exploited workers, but you are also confiscating their property. The words ‘fiscal‘ and ‘confiscate‘ have the same root.
It is worth noting here that Varadkar did not justify the move on the basis of the total outlay involved (which is minuscule, compared, for example, to the earnings of a billionaire living in Malta to avoid paying tax in Ireland) but rather in terms of a claim that “people get annoyed” by such things. But it is others who are the populists.
Given the sinews strained by his government in making sure that Apple would not have to pay the €13bn that it is bound by law to pay to the Irish government, Varadkar’s manoeuvrings in this regard (which, by the way, are a means of further eroding universality in social welfare and other public services) invite us to paraphrase Adorno: he shouts Stop thief! and points at the Poles and Romanians.
Meanwhile, the Minister for ‘the Diaspora’ – which does not, of course, include Irish-born children who were deported along with their parents – has announced a referendum on the subject of allowing Irish people outside the State to vote in Presidential elections. The fact that the government promoting this feels it can treat the lives of people who live here -who have no such vote- with such routine contempt goes to show that not only has it no interest in expanding effective democratic political rights for people who actually live here, but has every intention of using racial-biological stratification as a means of confiscating even more from those who most need it.
As far as property is concerned. Let us recall that any strength of feeling for it that Varadkar maintains would defeat any referendum that would rearrange things, was fostered by the Catholic Church.
In Sins of The Father, Conor McCabe cited the Bishop of Cork, Cornelius Lucey, in 1957:
‘The man of property is ever against revolutionary change […]
‘Consequently a factor of the first importance in combating emigration and preventing social unrest, unemployment marches, and so on, is the widest possible diffusion of ownership.’
So, if Varadkar is correct -as no doubt the zealous defenders of the regime of property, the Catholic Church included, hope him to be- the Catholic Church helped make it illegal for the Catholic Church to be made make amends for its crimes.
What has characterised the Church hierarchy in Ireland has been its reverence for the rich and powerful and its condescension and callousness towards the poor and weak. Superficial differences aside, Varadkar -held aloft by some as some sort of straight-talking fresh face of political renewal- is, like the rest of his party, scarcely different when it comes to substance. Not least in his view that women’s bodies are ultimately State property.