Thursday, November 27, 2014

AT HER wits’ end, hard-working mother-of-two Donna Hartnett sat down and penned a letter to the Irish Independent telling the government that enough was enough and she was putting her children first.

Her searingly honest letter touched a nerve with every working parent who nurses feelings of guilt as she spoke of rousing her sleeping children from their warm beds at 6.30am so they could be packed off to crèche while she and her husband rushed to get to work on time. She pointed out that four-year-old Tessa and Ryan (20 months) are out of their home longer than the average industrial worker and are “being raised in childcare centres like hens”.

The much-maligned water tax proved to be the final straw for the Hartnetts. Donna, who works as a community executive, and her husband Paul, who is employed in the transport sector, had battled valiantly to cope with a 35-year mortgage, massive childcare costs and a slew of new taxes. However, Donna decided she had enough. She has now quit her job of nine years to “give my children their childhood back”.

Donna, from Glounthaune in Co Cork, wrote: “We are slaves to our bills and our taxes. It got to the point where we looked at each other and asked what on earth we were working for. There were months after paying our mortgage and over €1,000 on childcare costs that we had nothing left. When one of my children got sick, I sat on the landing and cried because I was worried about them and worried about what I was going to do about work.”

The proposed water charge was simply a bridge too far and Donna felt that her only outlet was to write to the Irish Independent to vent her frustration at the never-ending spiral of bills and taxes facing working families. Her letter quickly went viral, as thousands of other families identified with her message of frustration and guilt.

“I know we are not alone – there are tens of thousands of other Irish families in exactly our position,” she said in subsequent interviews. “Ordinary working people are in a prison of bills, debts and taxes – people who never took a gamble on the property or stock markets.

“There comes a time when yet another bill arrives to be paid and you say ‘enough is enough’. What is the point of working to pay state bills or taxes when you feel that the real losers are your own children? … Like thousands of others, we are caught between a government that wants us to pay taxes and employers that don’t want workers absent because of their children.”

In a volatile environment frequently highlighted by protest in recent weeks, many citizens are voicing very genuine anxiety and deep anguish.

I found Donna’s letter to be honest, real and sincere. Fairness is surely key to any programme of recovery. May her voice, indicative of so many, be herd by those entrusted to listen.

The full text of Donna’s letter is as follows:

No one will ever stand over my grave and say ‘wasn’t she great at paying her water tax’ but it will be at that exact moment that my children will evaluate the quality of the years I gave them. The legacy of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen has resulted in our two children being raised in childcare centres like hens.

Meanwhile, we work, breaking our necks and our children’s hearts trying to keep up with tax after tax, with nothing left by the end of the month. We never financially over-extended ourselves or left a bill unpaid, but still my two very young children are out of their home every day for longer hours than the average industrial worker … as we work to meet another tax on our income.

Our reasons for not protesting before were exhaustion, anxiety, fear and not a minute to spare, but this is where it ends.

As the Irish government has chosen to protect those responsible for the financial crash and has seen many pensioned off, I’m choosing to protect my children.

To do this, I will do whatever it takes to give my children back their childhood … they will be at home, collected from school by me, and enjoy the security of a home life that should be an option afforded to every child. This will obviously mean a reduction to our income, resulting in overdue bills and unpaid taxes but that stress will be a holiday compared with the exhausting days we currently endure, dragging the children from their beds at 6.30am, starting and ending the day in a house filled with children’s tears of frustration and confusion as we pay for others’ greed.

So you see, this government has pushed an exhausted family one step too far. Let’s see who picks up the tab in the long run, Mr Kenny.


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