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Irish Examiner: Invest a little in deprived children and save a fortune on super-prison

19th October 2010

Fergus Finlay, Chief Executive of Barnardos, details the social and economic costs of failing to invest in children in his column in the Irish Examiner.

In the column, Finlay details our "failure to take advantage of a 15 years of rapid economic growth," instead building roads around the most disadvantaged communities so that we can turn a blind eye to the inter-generational poverty inside.

"We’re still waiting for the official figures of the number of children who live in consistent poverty in Ireland – they’re normally published around this time of year. But in Barnardos we reckon that around one in nine of our children falls into that category."

He describes how Barnardos work with children who don’t have enough protein in their diet, who won’t have the right clothes or shoes to wear this winter, who are more likely to have a heavy cold this winter and miss school. "That’s precisely what consistent poverty means." He also points out that is Irish children he is talking about - not children in a third world country, quoting Peter McVerry as saying that "these are children who have been sent out to live at the margins of our society and our economy."

He promotes the Poor Can’t Pay Campaign, the latest phase of which was launched yesterday in Dublin, which is fighting to get children and elderly people, and people with disabilities, onto the agenda. As waiting lists for service providers are getting longer, there is real fear that the budget cuts to come "will not only hit people on low incomes, but will also dramatically affect the capacity of organisations whose mission is to help."

Finlay states very simply and baldly: "The kids we neglect now are the kids we’ll pay for later."

"A tiny investment in a child can reap a huge dividend for state and taxpayers alike. But the failure to make that investment now, in the interests of meeting a four-year fiscal target and because we haven’t got the imagination to encompass the needs of the next generation, will cost us dearly in the end."

From IPRT's perspective, which believes that we should invest in communities and not an expanded prison system, the crucial statement comes at the end:

"If you want to make real savings, immediately and into the future, cancel Thornton Hall. Abandon it right now. Let weeds grow on the site.

"In case you don’t know, Thornton Hall is the super-duper prison we’re building in north Co Dublin. Nobody knows quite how much it’s going to cost to build – it will be in the hundreds-plus of millions. But in its first decade of operation, it’s going to cost around €1 billion to run. That’s what prisons cost to operate these days.

And in its second decade, it’s going to start to be populated by the kids we’re neglecting now. The kids who are dropping out of school early. The kids who can’t read or write. The kids who find their identities in gangs and their salvation in drugs.

"It’s a mad, crazy equation. We are cutting back, day after day, on the kinds of things that can prevent that happening. And we’re willing to spend 10 times what we save on locking them up.

"But we need prisons, I hear you say. Of course we do. What we don’t need is to fill our existing prisons with people who can’t pay fines or commit tiny acts of theft. And we don’t need to be manufacturing future prisoners either."

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