My column in The Kerryman. 10 July, 2013
We were part of the British Empire for a long time, but since leaving it we’ve remained part of a network of former colonies which share a language and similar political systems. This relationship has rarely been to Ireland’s advantage. If there has been a benefit, it’s having English speaking countries to flee to every time our politicians destroy the economy.
Every year since Independence, we’ve been heading to those English speaking countries in our thousands and hundreds of thousands. Emigration is as much a part of the Irish experience as pretending to be a Catholic or pretending to be able to speak Irish are. We’ve a culture of seeing loved ones forced to travel to the other side of the planet in search of work, and it has been spirit crushing.
This experience of Irishness appears to have robbed us of our ability to be angry in a publicly useful way. Those of us who’ve listened to the recordings of the Anglo-Irish executives may be furious with these men for laughing at us as they led us into ruin, but it’s a powerless anger. It’s an aimless fury and I fear it’ll disappear with the next plane load of defeated men and women, leaving in search of work.
We’ve half a million unemployed people in this country. We should have closer to a million. Imagine that. One million people without jobs and without any investment in keeping things exactly as they are, exactly as they have always been. Look at the social strife in Greece and the street protests that took place in Iceland. Or the Catalan and Scottish independence movements in Spain and Britain. The ominous reinvigoration of extreme right-wing parties in some European countries.
And more recently, the spontaneous anti-government protests in Turkey, Brazil and Egypt.
What do we have? We have emigration and when we’re really annoyed, we call Joe Duffy. Ireland wasn’t uniquely screwed over by a class of rich men, who remain better off than the rest of us. It’s not as if taxpayers all over the western world aren’t right now paying for the mistakes of their bankers, just like here. What’s different is that we either leave or ever so slightly change how we vote.
One could argue that this isn’t a bad thing. Despite our economy being destroyed, despite rising poverty and the attacks on our public services and public sector workers, despite families being broken up by emigration or buckling under the horrible stress of debt, despite the incompetence and our thwarted desire for revenge. Despite all this, the only difference a foreign visitor would see in Ireland today from ten years ago, would be the number of vacant commercial properties.
I am not saying that only the best of us are leaving or that only those who can cure the institutional corruption and stupidity of this nation have left. No, but we do have to recognise that anger requires energy. Action requires energy. Change requires energy. And most importantly, just paying attention requires energy.
And everyday as more people leave this floundering nation, we lose more of that vital energy. So we have a choice. Be angry enough for both ourselves and for those who’ve left, or accept that of course the bankers and pensioned politicians have no need to fear us. That they are even free to laugh at us.