‘Torpor’ is defined as “a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility”.
‘Torpor’ was painted in large black letters in the stairwell of the flats on the edge of Manchester’s Moss Side. The area had exploded into rioting in the spring of 1981, but by the winter, with its cold Lancashire drizzle, there was an air of resignation and hopelessness.
The stairwell stank constantly of urine; the lifts did not work for much of the time, and, when they did, smelt even worse. The occupied flats were those with boards nailed over the windows; not to cover your windows invited the removal of the window frames and the removal of your furniture by opportunists who prowled the walkways that passed the front doors. (One night, a flat that had been boarded up was cleared by men gaining access from the roof of a removal van). The only dwellers in the crescents were students, for whom the tiny rents represented a chance of avoiding debts, and vulnerable people who could find nowhere else.
“Torpor” seemed an odd thing for anyone to paint; maybe it was the name of a punk rock band, a few of which were still around; maybe it was just a considered comment on the state of insensibility to which people seemed to have been reduced by a cocktail of crime, violence and institutional neglect.
Torpor arising from hopelessness seems understandable, but the torpor that seems to have gripped an heretofore affluent, articulate and vibrant Ireland seems less so.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan today outlined the plans for the agency that is to handle the massive bad debts arising from the reckless lending of the banks. Sooner or later, this is going to involve billions of Euro of taxpayers’ money, money that has to come from somewhere.
If the Government has to spend money on one thing, it necessarily cannot spend it on something else. The nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank had consumed €3 billion in the exchequer returns up until 30th June, money that came from the same pot as money for health and education programmes. (Iris Oifigiúil, the Irish state gazette, is published twice a week and probably tells much that the government would prefer not to discuss).
Children returning to school today will have felt the impact of the spending restrictions; patients lying on trolleys in accident and emergency units will be feeling what it is like to have hospitals without proper resources; but there seems a general air of resignation. Even Dr Garret Fitzgerald, an elder statesman and veteran of difficult times, is telling the opposition not to oppose the government plans.
At a stroke, billions can be found for financial institutions, while, to save thousands, jobs are being cut and people being hurt . Old Testament prophets would have spoken in forthright terms about a government that could find €3 billion for a bank that was based on deceit, while cutting payments to elderly people and reducing its budget for assisting the world’s poorest people. Now, hardly a voice seems now to be raised from church circles, and the volume of protest from elsewhere is hardly deafening.