Living in Ireland for the past three decades, there is every reason to be angry and cynical. The publicity given to Shane Ross’s new book, ‘The Untouchables: The people who helped wreck Ireland – and are still running the show’ points to the widely felt deep sense of frustration at the complete lack of accountability among the brazen necked.
But after the anger, what?
The General Election last year made not a whit of difference. No-one is going to take to the streets, and, anyway, revolutions only replace bad governments with worse ones. If a festering resentment is the only product of the insights of political commentators, then is it worth it? Perhaps an ignorance of what is happening is preferable to constantly being confronted with the fact that one is being done down and can do absolutely nothing about it.
There are always untouchables. Even the briefest of readings of post-1945 European history shows people guilty of the most heinous crimes being allowed to finish their days in comfort and peace. In the Cold war era, the struggle between the West and the Soviet bloc to extend their spheres of influence blinded both to the hideous nature of most of the regimes that became their proxies. On the continent of Africa, Botswana alone stands out as a place where freedom, democracy and transparency were possible; the peoples of many other African nations experienced the worst of what humanity was capable, including genocide as horrifying than that of the Nazis.
If one country, Botswana, stands out; then one man, Nelson Mandela, stands out. Described by one writer as the ‘last hero’, Mandela is extraordinary. The path of anger and bitterness would have been understandable, even expected, yet Mandela responded to 27 years of imprisonment with tranquility and with the hand of friendship towards his former captors.
Mandela was a lesson in avoiding bitterness and resentment. Had he walked from prison declaring his anger towards the whole regime, and particularly towards the rich and powerful who had thrived in the apartheid years, then the country might have immediately been plunged into a conflict that destroyed everyone.
Ireland needs not more anger, anyone who lived in the North through the Troubles will know anger only begets anger. Ireland needs a Mandela-like approach. Instead of talking about the ‘untouchables’, those who bankrupted the country and still live in affluence, it needs to look at untouchability, to ask what sort of system allowed the untouchables to emerge, to ask what attitudes and values allowed that system to develop.
In a country where parties are still divided on Civil War lines and where there is no proper political discourse, no discussion of the philosophy underpinning policy, then the discussion of the nature of the system has not even begun.
To complain about the ‘untouchables’ is like complaining about the pustules of a chicken pox sufferer, they are unpleasant and painful but are merely symptoms of an illness.
Unfortunately, we have no Mandela to ask the questions.