April 16, 2009 / 10:45 AM / 11 years ago

Irish food queues grow, Celtic Tiger loses growl

DUBLIN (Reuters Life!) - Terry, an unemployed painter and decorator, is a regular in the queue for free food parcels from a religious center in central Dublin.

His wife is too ashamed to join him.

“There were arguments when I started coming. ‘You’re scrounging’, she’d say. Since then though, she knows it’s either this or somebody goes short. There are bills to be paid,” said the 56-year-old father of two.

The large parcel, packed with milk, cereal, bread, butter tinned and frozen food, will last Terry’s family for three days. He also grabs breakfast and lunch.

The Depression-style queues outside the Capuchin Day Center have been drifting further down Dublin’s Bow Street, formerly home to the old Jameson whiskey distillery, since the loss of tens of thousands of jobs tipped the unemployment rate to an estimated 11 percent in March, the highest in over 12 years.

Last week around 850 people, many of them foreigners who came to Ireland during the boom years, received a free food parcel and the centre’s staff race to serve daily breakfast and a three-course lunch to over 600 people.

“Two years ago it would have been about 300 but when the Celtic Tiger started to fizzle out around October, the numbers started to grow,” says Teresa Dolan, an assistant at the center.

“The demographics are changing too,” she says. “We’ve a lot more young people and would have about 60 percent non-nationals to 40 percent Irish.”

Many of the foreigners are economic migrants from eastern Europe, at a loose end now that the local property bubble has burst and unable or unwilling to return to home towns wracked by the global recession.

There are also foreign students like Thiago who swapped Sao Paulo for Dublin earlier this year to learn English but has been unable to supplement his studies with a job. “I would like to work and to buy food but it’s impossible. The recession in Ireland is very bad,” he says.


Passing through the line handing out cards is South African Patrick Maphoso, an independent candidate for June’s local elections who moved to Ireland eight years ago and has watched the number seeking food grow in his three weeks of canvassing.

“We need to look after these people who contributed to the economy of this country for many years. They are not looking for freebies, they are just struggling.”

There are few signs of resentment among the Irish. “They deserve to get a bit of food in the stomach too,” says Terry.

But Louise, a 33-year-old living in nearby emergency housing, questions the needs of some.

“This really annoys me because we come here every day for our three square meals - it’s the best eating house in town - and these queues are only here on a Wednesday,” she says.

“If they’re that starving, why aren’t they coming here every day of the week? It’s just a freebie for them and that’s Irish and migrants alike. This is not recession, this is pure greed.”

Teresa Dolan does not question people’s motivation.

“We work from the Capuchin principle,” she says. “If someone is in need, you just give.”

Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Paul Casciato

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