Boston Globe, July 19, 2004
UN calls a wealthier Ireland
impoverished and unequal
By Shawn Pogatchnik, Associated Press
DUBLIN -- From millionaire-row mansions to heroin-hit
welfare projects, Ireland has become one of
the most prosperous but unequal societies on
earth, the United Nations suggested last week.
The annual UN Human Development Report for the
first time placed Ireland among the top 10
developed nations, moving it to the number
10 spot from 12 last year in a list based on
residents' average income, educational level,
and life expectancy.
But a parallel finding, measuring the level of
poverty in the world's 17 most highly developed
nations, placed Ireland second from the bottom,
just above its primary economic role model,
the United States.
''Ireland has a long way to go before it's a
place where everybody is respected and has
enough to live life with dignity," said
the Rev. Sean Healy, who directs the justice
commission of the Conference of Religious of
Ireland, an association of 12,000 Catholic
priests and nuns.
The UN Poverty Index, part of the development
report released Thursday, has consistently
rated Ireland as having the highest percentage
of poor people in Western Europe, about 15.3
percent of the country's 3.9 million residents.
The United States was listed at 15.8 percent.
The report was based on 2002 data.
The Irish government, which takes pride in Ireland's
Europe-leading rate of economic growth over
the past decade, accused the UN of relying
on outdated statistics and on measuring ''relative,"
rather than ''absolute," poverty. Relative
poverty defines poverty in relation to the
average wage, no matter how high; absolute
poverty uses more fixed tests for determining
poverty, such as the ability to pay for home
heat and to eat a balanced diet.
The Irish Times rejected the government line
in its lead editorial Friday. ''It is not good
enough to reject these findings by quoting
different indices of poverty," the newspaper
said. ''Ireland is an unequal society in which
many remain socially excluded."
Dan McLaughlin, chief economist at the Bank of
Ireland, said he agrees with the government's
view that real poverty in Ireland today is
at a historic low of about 5 percent. ''They
say 'poverty' when they mean relative incomes,
and of course, the relative gap between the
richest and poorest is growing," he said.
''But by their logic, in a land where the average
wage-earner is a millionaire, then somebody
on $500,000 a year would supposedly be poor."
Ireland had a gross domestic product per capita
of $36,360 per year, which indicates the average
annual income, according to the report.
Healy said most people living under the poverty
line in Ireland today were in households led
by people who are elderly, disabled, too ill
to work, or doing volunteer work. Such households,
representing more than 700,000 people, rely
on benefits that have not kept pace with the
economy, he said. The average single person's
welfare check is $168 weekly; the poverty line
is $225 a week.
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