This appeared in An Focal in December 2010.
Cheesy does it, say Brian and Brian. You might be struggling to pay your ESB this Christmas, but it’s all Gouda, because the Government is planning to give away 53 million blocks of cheddar to the needy for Christmas.
Clearly, the Government doesn’t Stilton generous giveaways, but there is no mention of crackers to accompany the cheese. Never mind, there’s still plenty to Gorgon(zola). In Brie-f, you can go Em-menthal on cheese if you like. (Sorry, no more puns, I promise).
The Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, has been accused of rubbing the current economic crisis into the noses of the poor. It is argued that they would much rather the Christmas social welfare bonus reinstated. After all, a mouldy block of cheddar stamped with a harp does not a good Christmas present make.
The furore over the cheese seems somewhat surprising to those distributing it; apparently the cheese scheme has been in existence for years. Our parents remember the beef and butter mountains in the eighties; a rather magical-sounding butter mountain existed somewhere in Europe and this was distributed to the poor (aka the Irish). In America, the poor have received free cheese from the government for decades. “Government Cheese” is even slang for being on welfare.
I suppose this makes sense to the EU and the government; they have too much cheese, the poor have little cheese. It seems a little Victorian, granted, but it would be useful to those already struggling with the weekly supermarket shop (if they like cheese of course, if they don’t, it’s a whole other story). The hampers distributed by organisations like the Lions Club are invaluable to families for whom Christmas is a struggle. But these hampers contain a lot more than just cheese…
The Government probably thought that if they re-publicised this scheme, they’d get a little bit of positive exposure. It’s backfired on them spectacularly. It doesn’t help that at the moment the Government is only slightly more popular than the bubonic plague. One suspects that they could give every family in the country a free BMW and they’d get the same reaction.
Having said this, it’s difficult to see how Fianna Fail strategists thought free cheese would get them votes. Yet again, they’ve proved they’re out of touch. If they give up the Mercs and take a cut in their huge salaries, and make the necessary cuts as humane as possible, they might be able to save their skin. But I can’t see something that cheesy happening.