Budget Protests, Dublin 2010

Scrolling through my daily morning Facebook trail, I stop at a poll that asked “should the bankers get their bonuses, or should they be told to take a hike?”. As I read it, the first thing I wanted to do was to shout at the person for asking such a stupid question, and it occurred to me that this actually is the level of protest that exists in this country. This is all the Irish people are capable of doing. That and bitching to each other about how bad it is, how bad the government is and just how bad it’s actually going to get.

I thought about the 100,000 people that marched to the GPO on a cold snowy Saturday at the end of November. I thought about the 500 protestors (which was more like 1500 from where I was standing) outside the Dáil the night the budget was commended to the house. Then I thought about what it would take to get the rest of the people out of their comfy chairs and their heated houses and take part in what is now beyond necessary to help fix the situation that our Fianna Fail Government has left us with. On the march with the other 100,000 people, it just wasn’t enough. Where were the other 900,000 people? That march left me with a numb sense of gloom and utter hopelessness. I was witnessing a funeral, not the beginning of a revolution.

On the morning of the march, someone had posted on their facebook profile that it was too cold to go out, and besides, she had two new computer games to play with. Let me contrast this with a story that’s happening to the North West of us in Iceland. On the same day as we marched to the GPO, Iceland were holding a referendum to elect 25 ordinary men and women, to be part of an assembly that will change their constitution. Banking savagery too led to the total collapse of Iceland’s economy. Their anger spilled onto the streets with pots and pans outside their houses of parliment. The night of our budget only brought only 1500 people. Iceland, like Ireland was steeped in corruption. A newly drafted constitution made by the people and for the people would restore the public’s faith in their government. That’s their plan anyway, and I salute them for that. Now, 25 people with professions like ‘University Professor of Economics’, ‘Physician’, ‘Mathematician’, ‘Farmer’, ‘Journalist’, ‘Pastor’, ‘Theatre Director’ and ‘Consumer Spokesperson’ hold the job of being temporarily elected for the purpose of amending their constitution for a fairer and better society. Their job is an admirable one, their will, even greater.

Fintan O’Toole has many progressive and radical reform ideas. He is a well respected and intelligent person, and if the cheers he got on his podium that Saturday afternoon outside the GPO was anything to go by, he would be a sure favorite of someone who could lead us out of this muck. For that is what people need right now, a leader, someone to say ‘follow me’. No one has made any serious noise of stepping into that role, and if you think about it, why would they if they don’t have the majority of people behind them.

There are so many things that need changing, our political system being top of the list. The number of members elected to our Dáil, their wages and perks. Our ‘local’ way of doing things should be completely abolished so that the immoral and selfish acts of our fine Independent TD’s Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae should be something that the Irish people should ever again have to witness.

Emigration is an Irish problem once more. I grew up in a time where people wrote songs about Emigration. ‘Flight of the Earls’ was a song my father recorded from a record onto a casette tape – the entire casette tape. A tape he would play over and over again in our gold Toyota Hiace Van, simply because he liked it, and probably because it resonated with his generation. I often think about an article Fintan O’Toole wrote about a year ago. It was about emigration and why Irish people shouldn’t abandon their country. I agreed with him then. I no longer do. If the people of this country cannot get past the bitching and moaning from the safety of their own couch and computer, and not take to the streets to protest and revolt like the Icelandic people did, then why should you ask someone who cares deeply for their country to stay and fight? It’s unfortunately a hopeless and futile exercise. Right now, we have the potential to hold the biggest power, as a people. We can change things. We can do all the things that Iceland did and more. We can bring those bankers to justice and the people in charge who brought us here. We can change the laws and make up new ones. We now have the need to change the rules. We have the people in this country to make those changes. But above all, we have a responsibility to get out, get off our asses and fix this, because the argument of ‘shur, someone else will do it’ is no longer an argument.

The apathy of the Irish is always something that confuses everyone, even the Irish. Why the apathy? Where did it come from? Why aren’t we angry? Maybe being angry is uncool. Perhaps the only time we will see real anger on our streets, when 100,000 is replaced by one million is when our ATM’s stop working, when we have a new currency, when unemployment is out of control. When everyone is really hurting.

1 Comment. Leave your Comment:

  1. by eguinan

    On one of my last saunters along the M1 towards Dublin, I heard some French sociologist who has lived in Ireland for years talking about the seeming apathy of the Irish (as opposed to the French).

    Her theory was that vociferous protest and string public opinion were made difficult because of the smallness of Irish communities and how interconnected we are. Having very strong opinions/beliefs (especially angry ones) is not conducive to local community life – you has to live with/near/connected to someone that you might potentially offend.

    Large, urban societies don’t have this problem of course. And in the past, Ireland didn’t seem to have much problem rallying against a foreign foe.

    I reckon we half believe that we did this to ourselves and now need to do our penance.

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