a few words of a kind…

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.

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14 thoughts on “Ireland, November 23, 2010

  1. One thing I noticed during the one year I lived in Ireland is that a lot of Irish people have an attitude of “sure, it will never change” about even the smallest things. I remember a traffic light in Ranelagh that was broke for the entire year I was there. In one direction the light would turn green for just enough time to let just one or two cars through and then stay red for a few minutes. The caused a terrible back up during rush hour traffic. After my husband, a Dub, told me it had been like that for a couple of months I asked him, “Why don’t you report it?” He said “I wouldn’t even know who to report it to, but sure, it wouldn’t do any good anyway.” He was willing to sit at this light day after day and not even try to have something done about it. I’m assuming he wasn’t the only one because the light remained broken for the duration of my stay there. Perhaps he was right and some people HAD reported it and like he said, it didn’t do any good. But I got this sort of attitude from Irish people all the time about their government and services. A sort of resigned negativity. People seemed to love to moan and complain about how bad services were, but when I would suggest they shouldn’t tolerate such service, I was dismissed as being “very American”.

    • Thanks for the comment — ‘Resigned Negativity’ sums it up. Maybe it’s a throwback to colonial times…but we’ve seen enough by now to know better. It’s time for us to take responsibility about who we vote for, and why. We love to moan and groan, it’s a national pastime. But when it comes to putting on the boots and taking action, we’re too laxed or, god forbid…too lazy. I’m glad Doireann sent on this post and hope she’ll keep us up to date with her experiences in a chaotic Ireland.

  2. Enlighten me please. If we’re borrowing 90 billion Euros, and there’s 5 million or so of us, give or take a handful, isn’t that 18 million Euros per person? Math is not my strong suit, but why would anyone in their right mind loan a country 18 million for every man woman and child? And, could they be persuaded to make it 90 billion Euros plus 18 million for me, even though I live in New York?

    Note: the ancient Greeks who invented democracy, were a) slave owners – that sort of takes the heat off things a bit if your society is underpinned by free labor, and b) they knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t work in groups of more than 15,000 people. So why would it work in Ireland or anywhere else?

    • My maths are no great either Alan, but regardless of that, the 90Billion now seems to be a low-ball and estimates tonight are in the region of 300+ Billion…pure and utter madness. The only ‘solution’ is to default on the lot and be outcasts again…I guess we always were…and like dim witted fish, gobbled every bait we spotted. Sometimes I feel democracy can be similiar to magic…it’s great when it works…and brilliant while it lasts

    • a billion in europe is a thousand million, not a million million. so EUR90bn shared out among 5m people is EUR18,000 per person. not quite EUR18,000,000 but still more than i have.

  3. Its madness here at the minute. Bit by bit the figures are emerging and they are incredible. Last night on Vincent Brownes show there was talk of at the end of it all Ireland owing circa 350 billion. Which in turn gives a figure of anything from 14 billion to 18 billion in annual Interest. Last year Ireland took in around 32 billion in taxes.
    So its impossible.
    We have corrupt buffons at the top who have turned the banks problems into the States problems.
    God only knows where we go from here.

    • Hi Alan, I’m keeping up with you on Twitter + manage to sometime get Vin B live online. It’s unreal. I’d say all bets are off, this could go anyway. Some hacks are using the word ‘explode’…it’s going to be interesting.

      You’re doing great stuff on your site. It’s a brilliant resource… Never before do I remember such interest in Irish politics and the coming together of various strands of interest. You’re going to be very busy soon…


  4. Thomas F. Marshall on said:

    It seems to me (Irish descendant living in the USA), that the Irish are a fundamentally feckless group who are truly disinterested in the things of this world and do not mind putting up with extremely bad policies (either governmental or corporate) so long as they can privately contemplate the next world where presumably things will be better.

    The essential error of the Irish is that they love to complain but do little or nothing to change things. If they were indeed satisfied with the current state of affairs, they would not complain. To complain, however, and do nothing is indeed a sin against society. It is a form of self-debasement.

    What was the purpose of your war for independence? Was it intended to result in economic dependence on Europe? Independence and dependence are surely incompatible. A this point, you have undone the work of your founding fathers – and all without a shot being fired!

    • Thomas, I fear that it’s more than undoing the work of our founding fathers. No other event since the Great Hunger will have impacted the Irish psyche as much as this shambles. Now they have no Jesus to turn to and so the people will have to look into their souls. Depending on how they decide over the next month, Ireland will either sink or swim. I hope they come to their sences and go for independence.

      • The turn out for the demonstration this Saturday may tell you whether or not the Irish psyche is in shambles. Whatever the turnout is, there should be subsequent demonstrations and perhaps those staying home for the first will be carried along in a momentum. Maybe without the Church to turn to folks will find their inner strength and resilience – or at least get angry enough to become a force. I wish I could be there for the demonstration, to lend my support to the people. I took a bus from Chicago to DC for a Peace March a few years ago, going from Kilkee to Dublin would be a piece of cake… however, getting there from Chicago is another story.

  5. Steve Wall on said:

    Great post Doireann. I completely agree. The apathy in this country when it comes to taking to the streets is incredible. I’m going to miss it myself as I’m at a wedding in Clare that day but I’ll pass this on to all and sundry in the hope that they’ll vote with their feet.

  6. Wendy Mooney on said:

    People have been in shock, paralysed with fear. Now the intelligent among us are angry and will get out and march and protest. Change is coming. I was at the student march and I disagree re apathy, know dozens of people who will be at the march on Saturday. It will be the biggest march for decades, and the protests won’t stop there. Politics in Ireland has changed for good. Those who vote for the same old will be in a minority in years to come. Yes, there are those middle-class who are still in denial (because the anger of others terrifies them), who believe the system will continue to support them, who couldn’t care less about cuts in welfare or the minimum wage as long as they are okay. But there are many others waiting in the wings and they will no longer accept either parish-pump politics or the system as it stands.
    Thomas Marshall, you are obviously out of touch with Ireland. Our young people are among the best educated in the world and brimful of ideas. And holding out hope for a better life in the next world? It’s a long time since I met anyone who believed in one.

  7. Beannacht Lá Fhéile Pádraig, a Eddie Stack! (Did I get that right? Anyway, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!)

  8. Don’t feel alone. American young people were conned in droves to elect a Wall Street toady marketed as “hope for change.”

    Fighting globalization is daunting, but the first step is freeing our minds from corporate propaganda mouthed by pundits and politicians. When we stop consuming politics as a commodity and engage it as a reality we might recreate the community so recently lost.

    The world indigenous peoples’ movement, as exemplified by Bolivia, holds more promise for an authentic life than all the bromides flowing from Madison Avenue. Solidarity with that movement is one way of breaking free, if only for the human dignity of it.

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