Dublin zeitgeist

Jan 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: Ireland

Irish people seem to have an infinite capacity to put up with appalling treatment.

While working people struggle with swingeing pay cuts, or losing their jobs altogether, there is hardly a murmur when the senior civil servants use Christmas as a cover to ensure that their own pain is reduced.

Hardly a voice is raised at flat rate cuts in benefits, which always hit poorest people harder – the €16 a month cut in child benefit is a far more serious matter for someone struggling to make ends meet than it is for the golden sandaled ladies who lunch.  No-one seems to do anything to stop the iniquitous “green” taxes: bin charges that are as much for a pensioner as a millionaire, and “carbon taxes” charged at a flat rate per litre, taking no account of people’s ability to pay and taking no account of the complete absence of any coherent public transport system in most of the country.  There is almost complete silence about plans for water charges which will hurt poor people and hardly be noticed by the rich.

There is no more than a ripple of complaint at the fact that billions, that could have been spent on caring for sick people, have been spent on propping up the bankrupt Anglo Irish Bank.  No-one seems prepared to do anything to actually stop the culture of corporate greed; no-one is brought to book for the arrogance that has brought the country to its knees.

Where working people would have been sent to prison for dishonesty, through all the Tribunals and Inquiries, hardly a soul has spent time in prison.  Where judges would have contemptuously dismissed fantastic and absurd stories from an ordinary man, from the lips of senior politicians they seem acceptable.

What was most depressing was not the property market collapse, or the banking scandals, or the political machinations, or the ‘in your face’ selfishness of the wealthy and the powerful; what was most depressing was that people just seemed to take whatever slaps in the face came along.  Even the deal between the government and the religious orders, limiting the orders’ liability to hardly more than 10% of the compensation bill arising from the hideous crimes of some of their members, just seems to have been grudgingly accepted.

Personally, the single most encouraging image to come out of it all is Andy Sheridan’s photograph taken in Dublin’s Winetavern Street last year.  The graffiti was only briefly on the wall, and the juxtaposition of it with the defiant young man was a single moment in time.


What does the graffiti declare?  Maybe that for the poor the boom years made little difference, everything became unaffordable.  Now that the boom is past, the recession is used as the excuse to attack poor people.  Maybe it’s a sign that the defiant spirit of the Dublin people that carried them though every bad time in the past is still there; perhaps they do not protest, but neither are they cowed.

Make a political statement about the attacks on poor people and buy a print from Andy Sheridan, whom I met for the first time this afternoon, at a LUAS station in Dublin when I went to collect my copy.  The print is a limited edition and Andy Sheridan’s contact details are on his Flickr pages.

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  1. What do you do though? I mean really, if you’re so busy making ends meet, it’s difficult to object or protest.

  2. I think if we were French, or Italian or Spanish, we would be out on the streets, as it is we just accept whatever rubbish the government throws at us

  3. Infinite capacity is quite right. forgive my impertinence, if not rudeness. Your comments are well taken, and I really appreciate you voicing them – I can even hear you uttering such sentiments from the pulpit. Surely this is the time for leadership to be shown from the church – any church. The church (whatever church) may not be seen by the certain sections as being in any position to ‘preach’ but there is one thing that the mr. stockdales of this world have – congregations. Everyone is thinking or saying the very same words.
    The Irish Times devotes quite a it of space on Saturdays to detail church services – a good indicator that it is read by many people.
    You have influence. Use it. What is your Ministry ? (don’t take it personally! – I mean churchmen in general, but bishops in particular).

  4. The bishops say nothing – as Sean O’Casey once commented about the Church of Ireland leadership, “the sound of feet running away”.

    I have no influence whatsoever. My last promotion was 1989. Even the Irish Times ignores my letters. The last six letters I wrote have not appeared – the last time they printed anything I said was 2006.

    There is an establishment that has closed ranks to protect itself – it is not going to take pay cuts or share any of the pain.

  5. But surely that doesn’t prevent you from using your position – even within its limited capacity to make a point/ a stand.

  6. I spend a lot of my time making points – I am beginning to think it correlates with never ever getting any promotion.

  7. ahhh Ian!! chin up!! If anyone was part of the establishment it’s a clergyman. Unless that clergyman is Peter McVerry or the Ayatollah. The Times never publish my lettters either – so what.
    We’re all behind you. How far back I will leave you to judge.

  8. I’ve been at meetings where I’ve been told by people in advance they supported me – then there has been a deathly silence from them when the arguments began. I would never now claim to speak for anyone but myself.

  9. several days ago I got a couple of good slaps on the wrist from my managers at work for voicing (very carefully) some of the concerns and difficulties caused by economic problems, directlly to them, instead of wasting time listening to everyone moaning to each other in the staff rooms and study centres. Actually I had been listening to it for weeks and it was going nowhere. By this Thursday I had been ‘joined’ by three others, two of whom reiterated what I had stated a week earlier. This made the managment take a little nore notice and issue two statements clarifying some of the issues. Okay, 4 people aren’t going to change the world – but we have brought the problems into the open. I have had a very difficult two weeks – but at least I stood up to be counted.

  10. Ian, you can only speak for yourself. But in your current position, a churchman, it becomes you to take some sort of stand or issues – whether they be spiritual or earthly. What kind of life would you be leading if Jesus said ‘eff it, no-one is listening’ ?
    It almost looks as if you are reconciled to a life as a country priest, Irish Times, tea and shortbread.
    Onward christian soldiers. Come on! Best foot forward! (Left foot, of course!)

  11. I’m off in fulfilment of Niebuhr’s ‘Serenity Prayer’.

    A battered old 4×4 and a pair of wellies and the Promised Land will have been reached.

  12. I presume you are not referring to the AA version. Moving on, you have sold your soul for a mess of potage, or a battered 4×4 as you say. I cannot criticise you too much, for I am not 100 miles away from your vision. The difference is that I am not a man of the cloth. I do feel you should stand up for your beliefs. The honourable solution is retirement. How many teachers, lecturers, priests end their days in quiet anonymity, simply because they found out that they really could not change things. All was different in the heady idealist slightly socialist years of their early career.
    I have always thought, supected, wondered (I can’t find the word) that Niebuhr’s prayer is slighlty existential, slightly stoic, but, to me, ultimately depressing.
    Anyway, I just know that you will fit in very well in your rural idyll, and that you will enjoy it immensely.
    Ciao papa.

  13. Being a reformist and Fabian gradualist, rather than a revolutionary, Niebuhr is helpful. Revolutionaries create a last situation worse than the first and then throw up their hands. Changing the things you can change means keeping plugging away at a local level.

    The move is one which is compelled by the promotion of my wife – but may present opportunities for a new platform for change. There is huge support in the country for overseas development work, something with which I am involved at central church level.

  14. Yes, you are right. Down here there is great affinity with Africa. And some with Orlando too..:).

    Good to see you end on a positive note!

  15. Ah, I’m in grand form.

    I used to get newsletters from time to time from a world development group based in Kerry.

    I always had a great fondness for the place, meeting my wife at Aghadoe in 1981.

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