Our daughter is attending a week long course based at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland on Saint Stephen’s Green, that improbable setting for part of the drama of Easter 1916. It is said that after the rebels had surrendered, Constance Gore-Booth, the Countess Markievicz, was offered a lift in his motor car by the commander of the British soldiers. The Countess declined; preferring to walk alongside the remnant of her makeshift army. The odd episode points up the fact that, even in a crisis, inequalities persist.
One of the most surprising moments in A level history was the tutor quoting statistics that, despite the French Revolution claiming the slogans of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, it was not the aristocracy who suffered the most deaths – the popular perception – but the ordinary French peasants.
Crises seem invariably to favour the strong to the disadvantage of the weak. The culture of the spivs and the black market in Britain during the Second World War didn’t do much to benefit Tommy Atkins and his family; it existed to serve the demands of those with wads of cash who could afford to pay whatever might be asked for the goods they wanted.
Food, fuel and currency crises in Africa do impact upon the rich and powerful, but nearly as much as they do upon those living at subsistence level. The strongest elites will have their money safely converted into foreign currency and lodged in some overseas account where no questions are asked from whence it might have come.
So what of the “credit crunch”, a term that seems something of an understatement for the widespread collapse of financial systems?
It is not the rich and powerful who took to the streets in Latvia and Lithuania in protest at the dire economic conditions and it will not be the rich and powerful who will suffer as Ireland’s economy contracts at a record rate.
It is working people who will be most affected as the funds holding their occupational pensions are devastated. It will be working people who face the repossession of their homes if the recession means they lose their jobs and fail to keep up their mortgage payments. It will be working people, without private health insurance, who will face the prospect of an already weak health service being further depleted. It will be working people for whom state benefits are important who will be most affected when the Government starts squeezing those benefits.
History is an unfair process.
A Catholic country with a great devotion to Mary might do well to remember the words of the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise to the Lord, from the first chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.