Did anyone really believe Enda Kenny and Eamonn Gilmore as they made their claims about what they had achieved in their first hundred days in government? Perhaps the faithful of their respective parties, but few others. Assertions that Ireland’s international standing had improved are undermined by the facts – in the second fifty days of the Coalition Government the gap between German and Irish government bonds widened from 7.4% to 8.9%; the markets do not believe the Taoiseach.
The question of how we got where we are is hardly addressed at all. Five years ago, David McWilliams warned of the dangers of the 40-somethings in Ireland becoming a nation of ‘kidults’, ageing adults with a constant desire for consumer gratification. The massive credit bubble generated by government policies fed an insatiable desire for the more and the bigger and the more expensive. It was hardly a phenomenon confined to 40-somethings.
Had it not been for the government abdication of responsibility to manage credit in the economy and the ensuing property boom and bust, the real wealth generated in the economy might have been used to achieve lasting changes and improvements.
Reading Declan Kiberd’s ‘Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living’ on a Bloomsday evening, a paragraph seems to have a striking prescience of where we might end up. Reflecting on the Dublin of Joyce, Kiberd writes:
The tragedy of the twentieth century was the replacement of a public-spirited bourgeoisie, not with a fully enfranchised people, but with a workforce now split between overpaid experts and underpaid service providers. The world so lost turns out to have been far better than that which replaced it. The world of pub, cafe, civic museum and national library produced social democracy, modernist painting and Ulysses. The world which supplanted it can generate only the identikit shopping mall, the ubiquitous security camera and the celebrity biography. The middle class has no real public culture or artworks which critique its triumph, because it has assimilated all the oppositional forces of modernism, by reducing them to mass entertainment. Now the streets are places not of amenity, but of danger, through which nervous people drive in locked cars from one private moment to another.
Look at how we spend our money – you can now even programme your satellite television from your mobile phone as you journey home from work – technology is devoted to the trivial, and to the cults of celebrity and individualism; personal fulfilment has become a vicarious thrill derived from watching ‘reality’ television.
If Deputies Kenny and Gilmore really wanted to say something, they might have articulated a vision for an Ireland different from the economic failure created by Ahern, McCreevy and Cowen; an Ireland where the kidults must grow up. Presenting an analysis of our society as trenchant as that of Declan Kiberd might prove deeply unpopular to a generation reared on the pulp and the petty, but would at least demonstrate a willingness to engage with where we are, rather than where the government pretend we might be.