In the week that Michael Noonan insulted a whole nation of unemployed, by laying claim that ‘there are people who are allergic to work,’ I attended an exhibition called STILL, WE WORK, which is the result of an initiative taken by the National Women’s Council of Ireland to develop a Legacy Project, marking the council’s 40th anniversary year which examines the seen and unseen contribution of women to all levels of society in modern Ireland.

When Finola Brennan from Donegal Women’s Network invited me to attend, I felt it was a good opportunity to record the issues facing a family carer. After all, family carers are a pretty invisible bunch when it comes to seen and unseen work in Ireland, never mind paid, and unpaid! So I told Finola I would be delighted to take part but, as always, before I can put my name to anything, I had to seek care for my son first. Unfortunately I didn’t get to the launch of the exhibition, curated by Marie Barrett, at the Regional Cultural Centre in Letterkenny last Friday but I did manage to get care for my son that enabled me to attend one of the workshops on Saturday facilitated by Cork born artist, Miriam O’Connor.

It was a privilege to take part in such a workshop and exhibition. Never before have I been given the opportunity to talk about my work as a former full time paid employee and, presently, as a family carer, and the difficulties I face as part of an invisible workforce in Ireland today that is not appreciated at government level.

‘STILL, WE WORK’ features work by artists Sarah Browne, Miriam O’Connor, Anne Tallentire and Vagabond Reviews. The NWCI Legacy Project recognises and celebrates women’s work and women’s activism in challenging conventional thinking about work in modern times up to today and how this is represented.

After hearing Minister Noonan’s flippant comment, I would encourage the Minister to attend the exhibition, that is, if he is not allergic to the truth and can stomach stories from women, including unemployed women, who in fact never stop working. They just don’t get paid high salaries for it nor do they head off into the horizon with exuberant pensions.

Minister Noonan’s comments has attracted a lot of criticism, and rightly so. For someone on a large salary paid by the tax payer, it is inappropriate for him to throw such comments around without regard for people who through no fault of their own may be currently unemployed. We can only assume, that Minister Noonan wasn’t referring to such marginalised groups since he failed to clarify exactly who he was talking about but comments such as these are unacceptable. They should not be tolerated from an elected public representative, and neither should his attitude as it seems Minister Noonan’s view is that we just ignore whoever he was referring to. Leave them to social exclusion. Is that the best he can do? We are a civilized society and as such should encourage all, who can, to work and not condemn anyone to social exclusion as Minister Noonan is suggesting. We can never really know the circumstances of even our closest neighbour. Lack of empathy with the less privileged in our society has been the mark of this government which appears to view the most vulnerable with parasitic contempt while it is evident that many parasites have crawled up and often reside at the top of the political ladder.

STILL, WE WORK is commissioned by the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), and is presently on tour. It is showing at the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny and runs until the 23rd of May.