Sitting in the National Concert Hall with the members of our junior choir and their assorted parents for an excellent production of A Christmas Carol should have been a buoyant start to the year. The musical, with its tale of the redemption of the character of Scrooge, should have set an optimistic tone, but stepping onto the street in the light of late afternoon, there was a mood of melancholy.
The auditorium for a large scale production on an afternoon when many were still on holiday was at most half full. Knowing nothing about the economics of the theatre industry, I asked a friend in the next seat why there were not more people. “Maybe it’s the corporate cutbacks”, she suggested, “maybe they are not providing employees with tickets to take their families to concerts. Or maybe it is that people don’t have the money or, if they have the money, they are afraid to spend it”.
I sat in the auditorium through the intermission, trying to comprehend what had happened to the country. If one of the premier venues cannot sell very modestly priced tickets for a usually popular show that must have cost a large amount to stage, then how much worse might things become? Tickets had been so discounted that two of the best seats in the house could be bought for the price of going to a League of Ireland football match (and even the most ardent fan would hardly claim that Irish soccer was the most professional of experiences).
A year ago, the banks’ economists were insisting there would be a soft landing; a year before that, it was still boom time. In a matter of months, we seem to have gone bankrupt.
Staring at the ceiling, with its array of sound and lighting equipment, it seemed odd that a country that could manufacture the most sophisticated computer equipment in the world, could not find, within its ranks, people who could lead us out of the downward plunge. Surely it could not be beyond the wit of people who could build €1 billion production plants to think of a way out of our situation.
Amongst the mediocrity of Irish politics, there must be some who could sit down and say, “This is where we are. This is where we want to be. This is how we will get there”.
Ensuring people have work; guaranteeing the safety of their homes; sharpening the focus of public spending to safeguard essential services; these are not rocket science, yet there seems no voice explaining that a national plan has been developed.
The melancholy of the empty seats was completed by the news that Tony Gregory had died. No matter what one thought of his politics, he spoke the truth fearlessly. There seems now hardly a voice left to say that another way might be possible; but out there somewhere, there must be someone who has the answer.