NOTE 14.11 Feb 26: Spokesman for Batt O’Keeffe has told a national newspaper that the car in the photograph is not his vehicle. Right. Report below remains unedited.
I’ve been doing some research on homelessness in Dublin for a piece I’m planning. The last person I met told me he was born in eastern Europe but moved to the the US in his twenties. He lived there for more than ten years, during which time he lost touch with his family, and moved to Ireland eight years ago. These days he speaks with a Dublin accent.
Until summer 2008 he was the assistant manager of a gastro-pub in one of the more affluent suburbs. Then the owner told him he was cutting staff and, apologetically said the assistant manager’s role would be the first to go. He kept up with the rent for a few months but gradually fell behind. No jobs. He lived on friends’ couches for a while, until he felt like a burden.
Eight months ago he started spending his days in the City, usually between Nassau Street and Templebar. He sleeps in a 24 hour internet cafe because it’s only €5 a night and “there’s no drugs or screamers in them”. He’s in a strange situation with his welfare entitlements; getting rent allowance of €35 a week but unable to the dole. He was due to meet a welfare officer a week after we spoke to sort it out, a meeting he’s been waiting six weeks to happen. The last time he met her, a few months ago, she said she was going to get his paperwork readied, so he was hopeful.
That was about a month ago. I told him I’d want to talk to him again, maybe about filming an interview. He said he’d speak to people he knows in similar situations about interviews too. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled when I’m around town in the hope I’ll meet him again and be able to organise something.
Last night after turning off Grafton Street onto Stephen’s Green I saw a man sitting on the path. I checked, it wasn’t him, but I was reminded of his story. The symbolism of someone holding out a cardboard cup yards from the Anglo Irish Bank headquarters was not lost on me.
I was meeting two people to talk about stories which should be pursued, politics, economics and the likes. We headed to Doheny & Nesbitts for a few pints. Not unusually there were some influential people inside having a quiet drink, as they’re entitled to and of which they’re likely deserving.
We passed Batt O’Keeffe, minister for education, and Conor Lenihan, minister of state for technology, as we left.
Below is a photo of the two cars parked immediately outside, at least one of which I’m reasonably sure is a ministerial vehicle.
I’d guess the closer one is Batt O’Keeffe’s transport, as most junior ministers don’t have ministerial cars.
It’s is a 2008 registered Mercedes, either an S- or E-Class, double parked outside Doheny & Nesbitts, staffed with a garda driver, apparently waiting for the politicians to finish in the pub. Such cars are approx €90,000 new.
It’d be an over-simplification to fully marry the two stories, but it perhaps tells us something about priorities.