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Social welfare, photo ID and non-nationals

Mary Hanafin, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, was on Morning Ireland today to talk about a new requirement for those claiming social welfare payments to produce photo ID when collecting their entitlement at the Post Office. The plan itself is perfectly rational – the surprise is rather that this requirement wasn’t always in place. Her explanation as to why photo ID will be required henceforth, though, was..odd, and, dare I say it, (yup, I do), racist.

Said she:

‘In recent weeks people will be familiar that (sic) we did a crackdown on the border areas, so on foot of the success of all that in early March we took a targeted approach…particularly on people who are non-nationals in the country’

This seems a little strange: on foot of the discovery of people resident in the North of Ireland claiming the South’s more generous social welfare payments, Hanafin’s department decided to investigate…’Eastern Europeans and other non-nationals…because our targeted approach showed up that these are the category at most high-risk (of fraud)’. Huh? The implication of ‘a targeted approach…particularly on people who are non-nationals in the country’ is that the investigation was into nationals and non-nationals, with the empahsis on the latter. In fact, 2,227 non-nationals were investigated, as against 45 Irish nationals. That’s not an approach ‘particularly’ targeted at non-nationals, that’s an approach almost entirely targeted at non-nationals. To imply that this investigation was anything but one into fraudulent claims by non-nationals is entirely disingenuous, the 1.98% of the total made up by Irish nationals notwithstanding. Comparing 45 Irish nationals with 2,227 non-nationals and concluding that the latter is ‘at most high risk’ of fraud is absolutely and unforgiveablely ludicrous. It’s like comparing the GDP of Ireland and China and concluding that we really need to step up to catch up.

Even if you were to follow a kind of logic that allows comparison of two groups that differ by such a huge order of magnitude, as Hanafin does here, the figures she’s quoting don’t back her up. Of the 2,227 non-nationals, 270 (12%) were found to be fraudulently claiming social welfare, while 5 of the 45 Irish people (11%) were doing so. Which would mean that in fact Irish nationals who are at least as ‘high risk’ when it comes to indulging in social welfare fraud*.

Asked if the production of photo ID was to be mandatory, or if Post Office staff could exercise some discretion if the person claiming was known to them, Hanafin replied:

‘We’re making sure that in all categories it’s the right people (claiming)…but obviously Eastern Europeans, and other non-nationals wouldn’t be known to the staff…these are the ones who would be included in this’

Obviously. I’ve lived in my current home for two years and I’ve been to my local Post Office once, to pay an ESB bill. The staff there have absolutely no idea who I am. Of course, there are people who have better relationships with their local Post Office than I do, but many (I’d venture to say most) Irish people don’t. And I’d venture to say that there are probably a few Eastern Europeans and other non-nationals that do.

For a Minister of State to come out with such a blithely racist statement is truly gobsmacking. It’s the result of trying to hitch two subjects which should be entirely unrelated together. Requiring photo ID to collect money in the Post Office is one thing, non-nationals defrauding the social welfare system is another. The reasoning behind lumping the two together seems to have run thus: ‘We found lots of people from Northern Ireland claiming unemployment benefit in the South, so we surveyed lots of the dread Eastern Europeans and other non-nationals and found 12% of them were making fraudulent claims, we have no comparable figures for fraud amongst Irish nationals, so that figure is fairly meaningless, let’s introduce ID checks in Post Offices, oh look, a bee!’

It’s not just Hanafin dropping a clanger in an unscripted interview with Morning Ireland, the official statement released to coincide with the introduction of a photo ID policy for social welfare payment gives us this beauty:

Of the over 2,200 claims targeted for investigation, the vast majority were in the high risk category of non-Irish nationals claiming a payment. These pose a high risk because of their mobility between countries, they may not in fact be resident in this country. However, risk of fraud is always a factor for a system as large as social welfare, and ongoing investigations cover both Irish nationals and non-Irish nationals.

Again, the disingenuous ‘vast majority’ – this was a non-targeted (because that would be racist) targeted investigation. On a side note, the 45 Irish nationals investigated were all in the North-East, which region, uniquely, seems to have been investigated twice


No of Investigations

Payment suspended

No of Investigations

Payment suspended


Irish nationals

North East





North East1





















Thomas Street Local Office2








Perhaps the first investigation in the North East was the earlier one, which involved vehicle checkpoints – in other words, a different investigation lumped in with this one to allow phrases like ‘vast majority’ and ‘particularly’ be bandied about so it won’t seem like the government is, in this instance, cracking down on instances of social welfare fraud amongst non-nationals.

What’s really strange is that neither an investigation into welfare fraud amongst non-nationals nor a requirement to produce photo ID when collecting social welfare payments is particularly controversial (especially when, as they say, investigations are ongoing into fraudulent claims by Irish nationals). It’s odd, then, that the Minister and the Department of Social and Family Affairs should tie themselves into such knots about it.

*I’m not condoning the comparison at all, you can’t compare groups so dissimilar, but if Mary Hanafin is using this flawed logic, it deserves to be pointed out that even her use of it is, well, flawed.


The art of the shoe-thrower

A statue honouring Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the journalist who threw his shoe at George Bush back in December, has been unveiled in Tikrit.  It was created by Baghdad artist Laith al-Amari, and features a poem dedicated to al-Zeidi inscribed on the side.  Subversive genius at work?  Perhaps, but Tikrit was Saddam Hussein’s hometown – is the statue dedicated as much to Hussein as al-Zeidi?  Not so, according to the artist, as reported in the Huffington Post:

Laith al-Amari, said the work honors al-Zeidi and “is a source of pride for all Iraqis.” He added: “It’s not a political work”

Good, that means I can laugh along with the peeps in the picture.

A dropped stitch

An interesting slip-up in Obama’s inauguration speech is pointed out by Harry Browne on

…there was one largely overlooked passage that was so stupid, and so disturbing, that I may have to withdraw my standard concessionary, “Well, sure, I admit he’s obviously a smart guy with some decent instincts.”

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

[…]for me its most striking phrase is the denigration, alongside the despised “faint-hearted” and fame-seekers, of “those who prefer leisure over work.”

It gets worse, a lot worse, if you follow the rest of the passage logically in terms of the contrast he has set up. The productive good guys of the next sentence, the doers and makers who brought not just prosperity but freedom – those folks clearly must have preferred work over leisure, or maybe they scored them even. And the final sentence tells us explicitly who he is talking about: farmers and settlers, sweatshop-workers and … slaves.

The idea that slaves helped build American greatness because (among other things) they preferred work to leisure is so offensively stupid that it clearly wandered into Obama’s speech via sloppiness rather than by design. (This is in itself undermines his reputation for wordcraft and attention to detail: the only reference to slavery in the inaugural speech of the first African-American president was permitted to carry this crazed logic.) Maybe we can just write it off as the sort of thing that happens when you’re absent-mindedly knitting together clichés and you drop a stitch. Nobody seems to have noticed it or taken offence anyway.

As Browne goes on to point out, who doesn’t prefer leisure over work?  John Calvin has a lot to answer for in inculcating the belief that idle hands will always and everywhere occupy themselves fluffing the devil’s pillows.

Update: See, this is where we’ll end up:

After meetings with some of Japanese industry’s most important CEOs, including the heads of Sony, Nintendo, Toyota and Kendo Nagasaki, the Taoiseach said there were lessons for Ireland to learn. “You look at how efficient these businesses are and compare them to way the operate in Ireland and it’s chalk and cheese.

Here they’re cramming people onto trains with sticks so they can get to work. Half the time we’re calling in sick. Here if an employee performs badly he’ll commit Hara-kiri such is his shame at letting company down. At home they just don’t care. I think we need to take stock of ourselves and if, at first, it means we have to commit Hara-kiri on people to give them the example then I think that’s what we’ve got to do”.

Via The Irish Sentinel

The Times lands on its ass

I’m very taken with the Masal Bugduv story that Fredorrarci exposed as a hoax on soccerlens yesterday. In short, a couple of Irish soccer fans (or maybe just one) came up with the idea of inventing a 16 year old Moldovan footballer called Masal Bugduv.  They set to work seeding fake AP reports on Bugduv throughout the blogosphere.  Bugduv was going to be loaned to Cork City; Arsenal were interested; Benitez was all set to poach him.  They were so successful that he was listed at number 30 in the Times’s Top 50 Rising Stars list for 2009.  Masal Bugduv is a phonetic rendering of m’asal beag dubh, or my little black donkey in Irish, the name of a Padraic O’Conaire short story.  Run of Play have a piece on the connection here.

Timeline below.

The great Masal Beag hoax: Timeline

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Funding the future

Thought provoking and interesting piece from Ethan Zuckerman on future funding for journalism.  He points out that advertising has always been massively overpriced in print, and now that vendors can get good stats on how effective their ads are, they’re not willing to shell out quite so much anymore.  He quotes an ex-ad exec called Joshua Jeffryes:

When I worked in Advertising the ineffectiveness of advertising was hardly a secret. But customers couldn’t measure the effectiveness of ads. So they paid and continue to pay ridiculous prices for them.

Online ads, on the other hand, are measurable. They work just as well, if not better, than print, television, etc., the difference is that for the first time ad customers know exactly how ineffective they are.

The first point being something I suppose we all knew intuitively but, like our intuitions about the irrationality of the banking system, didn’t allow into conscious awareness (the somebody knows what’s going on, surely, impulse).  The second point being a thing journalists and publishers are going to have to worry about.  Says Zuckerman:

If I’m right and print advertising costs are fundamentally irrational, then it’s possible that the way we’ve built media in the United States can’t survive a transition to a more rational market.

That goes not just for the US, but for Europe too.  While we do have trusts (Irish Times, Guardian), they depend on this putatively irrational system of advertising for their existence, and licence fee funded broadcasting networks (BBC, RTE) only ever came about because of limited bandwidth in the early days: ie, it’s as far from a funding model for the internet as it’s possible to get.

He goes on:

What if the idea that commercial enterprises should carry out the public interest function of journalism is built on a fundamentally broken model? What if advertising worked pretty well as a way of subsidizing public interest journalism only so long as advertisers didn’t understand the effectiveness of their ads? Putting aside all the other reasons why commercial journalism may be flawed – the tendency of newspapers and television channels to seek readers by publishing “edutainment” rather than investigation, the worry that papers will hesitate to publish stories that might embarrass advertisers – what if ad supported journalism is only viable in a world where we radically overvalue the worth of ads?

Is the answer more, cheaper ads?  Or is it a return to the old old model of foundation/proprietor funded journalism?  Bloggers and smaller concerns will be able to fund their small operations with their small advertising revenue, but growth will only be achievable when someone who’s made their money in something else comes along and doles out cash.  The Knight Foundation are already doing this in the US.

Justifications for ‘free’ newspapers funded by advertising were created after the model came about: without a controlling proprietor, with proprietary interests, newspapers were more objective, balanced; free.  Always a nonsense, of course, advertisers were always just as controlling of what a newspaper could report, and how, as the Rothermeres of old.  It was just a more subtle form of control.

Going back to the smaller revenues achievable through online advertising: is this the end of the world?  Philip Meyer, in his book The Vanishing Newspaper, gives traditional profit margins of 30% for newspapers, compared with 6% for other industries.  Even without funding from a foundation or a proprietor it seems entirely plausible that online publications can operate at a profit.  Just a smaller one.  If anyone out there can do the sums, I’d be delighted to hear from them.

The Economist on Israel’s flawed propaganda strategy

These days, trying to control reporting seems a fairly futile endeavour.

…denying access to Gaza to all Western correspondents might have backfired on Israel. The result has been that it is Gazans themselves, including some 300 local journalists, who have kept the world focused on their plight. More significantly, the most watched Arab television news channels are all in Gaza, giving saturation coverage to the conflict, even three weeks after its start.

The English-language sister channel of al-Jazeera, with two reporters in Gaza, has flourished in the absence of Western competitors, such as CNN. Its coverage has been graphic but sombre in tone. This contrasts with the hyperbole on many Arabic-language networks, where charges of Israeli “genocide”, mixed with unsubstantiated reports of Hamas’s military successes, have been frequent, accompanied by dramatic music and filler material looping pictures of dead children.

Hamas has been largely sidelined from this effort, although its television still beams feebly, airing martial pomp and pre-recorded speeches. The group has even tried its hand at phoning threatening messages to Israelis and posting propaganda on the internet. But what has really turned the tide is the ceaseless stream of appalling imagery that fills the Arab satellite channels. Their passion is certainly not always professional, but the gore, distress and misery they portray are all too real.

The Economist, Jan 15th

It seems hard to believe Israel didn’t know this would happen – so one wonders what was behind the decision.  Simple concern for the welfare of foreign journalists?  (They might get blown up by accident, and, their deaths would bring about, not just their deaditude, but also a fair measure of international condemnation).  Embededness would get around this possibility, but who’d agree to being embedded with the Israeli army?