Ireland, November 23, 2010
(this is a post by guest blogger Doireann O’Sullivan)
Never before has politics caused me great personal distress. I have gone on rants about student grants, gotten into arguments about the EU, shed tears for the Troubles and protested against the Iraq war. But not until this week have I experienced a constant state of emotion that veers between anger and upset, due to the actions of the Irish government.
The arrival of the IMF and the revelation that our economy is to be under its control, makes all of my day-to-day worries and activities insignificant. That might seem dramatic for someone my age, 29, given that I have no children, debt, or mortgage, or job. But for me, making plans seems futile because I don’t know if it is worth sticking around to see them through. Is this a country worth planning for?
I returned here after many years abroad because I missed the people and the sense of place, and wanted to build a life and a career here. Recent unemployment aside, for the most part, I have achieved this. I was instilled with a sense of hope when I saw things like the Greens getting into power, when I went to Electric Picnic for the first time and when I heard about creative ventures like Project Brand New and Story Land. I was proud that there was progress and creative initiative in my native land. We had turned a corner, a generational shift had occurred and we were looking at new ways of doing things. But in Ireland, things don’t change that quickly.
When NAMA was introduced, the Greens sold out, and so Fianna Fáil remained in power. There was no major backlash from the people at that time. Later, Bertie resigned, wrote a book, got a job with a tabloid newspaper and declared himself an artist. Though he had conned them, Irish people continued to buy his book, and read the rag he writes for, without a murmur of concern. People bemoaned the decline of the country but still refused to do anything about it. We kept going to Electric Picnic, even though it became one of the most expensive festivals in Europe. Surely now, after the past seven days, people will say ‘we’ve had it’?
There is a National Demonstration organised for next Saturday, November 27th. I have asked several friends and colleagues if they are attending, and most are not. It seems to me that for some reason, Irish people don’t believe in action. We don’t believe that change can be achieved through protest. We don’t believe in ourselves as a political force. This is probably why our country has been run by incompetent, corrupt, unimaginative and self-serving careerists for decades.
But who is to blame for that? Who voted them in? We can’t keep blaming older generations who consider their vote an inheritance, and maintain the alliances of their parents; that generation is almost gone. We can’t keep blaming the politicians because we’re the one who let them away with their actions. We’re aware there’s a lack of professionalism across the board in Irish society, most seriously at government level, but we have done little to address it.
Where are all the educated, well travelled, open minded, forward thinking citizens? Are they sitting at home, giving out and maybe posting links to articles online? The majority of them are not engaging in any real public discussion, never mind making plans to take radical action. They are not taking responsibility for the country’s affairs. Sound familiar? In a way, they are adopting the government’s stance. Monkey see, monkey do.
I don’t understand why this is so. I know intelligent, passionate people who have opinions about the current situation, but who will find a weak excuse not to take to the streets on Saturday or to attend meetings in the meantime. Am I radical? Are they lazy? Are they the product of an individualist society? Or are they completely disillusioned with politics after decades of corruption and mismanagement?
The answer to me is simple: We need change. We have voices. We have feet. We have brains. We need to engage, discuss, shout, write, march and make it known that we do not accept the recent decisions made by the government. As Fintan O’Toole rightly pointed out in today’s Irish Times, accepting the call for a general election in the new year, or post-budget, is too late. The damage will have been done. This needs to happen now! Before the budget goes through. The people I have spoken to seem resigned to the fact that an early election will not happen, and in turn, their resolution breeds inaction and their indifference is thus justified for another generation.
All over Ireland, students brandish posters of Che Guevara, people reminisce about punk, play Gil Scott-Heron, pass comment on Chavez, give out about Cowen. Sit in their houses. Let others take action.
It is upsetting to think that we are letting this happen. It is horribly sad to think that many Irish people do not feel their voice is powerful enough to force change; that we have no choice. Does this mean we deserve to be governed by people equally devoid of conviction?
I spoke to several people about the current crisis today, all of them in their twenties. Many of them were uncomfortable with the conversation after the opening minute. I felt like a crazed lefty when I asked if they were attending the demo on Saturday. They didn’t share my outrage. They wanted to discuss something else: yes, it’s terrible, but life must go on.
I tried to busy myself with plans for Christmas and beyond, but I couldn’t escape the news buzzing from the radio detailing the latest from Dáil Éireann. Meanwhile girls on the bus talked about ways to wear their hair. The actions of the government make me angry, but the inaction of the people makes me despair. I hope that the National Demonstration this Saturday will lift this cloud of despair and prove me wrong about the passivity of my fellow citizens.
Doireann O’Sullivan, Ireland.