The Irish capacity for enduring hurt has always surprised me. It can seem limitless. Invasion, war, hunger, emigration, abuse – we can shrug them all off without a word.
It’s because we don’t hold authority figures, the authors of these disasters, to a high standard usually. We don’t seem to expect anything more from them or from ourselves but total failure. Disappointment appears to be hardwired into us.
Nowhere is this weird fatalism more apparent than in our politics. For decades we have talked about giving emigrants the vote, an initiative that could actually lead the nation in an exciting new direction. But why bother when the old unexciting one hasn’t worked and can be depended on not to, eh?
The Irish government’s new found enthusiasm for a minister for the diaspora is your clue that they now view the office as ceremonial and unimportant. If it were functional and significant they would never discuss it. This is how our leaders lead.
I was prompted to think about the Irish capacity for enduring hardship this week by reflecting on the lives of the smiling Irish businessmen – and they are all men – who haven’t known privation in their own lives.
Because it’s not as if we are all in this together. Ireland has just pulled ahead of the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates to become the fourth most economically unequal society in the world this year.
We have long had a small fiefdom walled in within the larger nation where our political and business leaders exist. The usual laws of privation and hurt are unknown there.
These people live inside an economic pale. They are not loyal to the Irish people, and indeed they never think of them.
Watching the Sean FitzPatrick and Anglo Irish trial last week it became clear to me, as never before in my life, how much we have given to our financial lords and masters, asking nothing in return but the opportunity to bankroll their debts and tug our forelocks.
But we really should take a second look at how we conduct ourselves. It seems to me that the Irish public has maintained a detached 19th century political model while living in the 21st.
In 2009 in Iceland the people immediately protested their government’s handling of the financial crisis. They held several referenda about paying or not the Icesave debt of their banks. They did not allow a small cabal of unelected bankers and senior politicians to decide the economy’s fate whilst drinking whiskey and arguing late into the night.
And all the best efforts of FitzPatrick and his cohorts came to naught anyway. The thing they had dreaded happened. Anglo shares lost three-quarters of their value and foreign banks and hedge funds stopped buying Anglo bonds and demanded repayment.
You and everyone you know got stuck with the bill, of course. You’ll be paying it for decades to come.
So far you haven’t even protested the lousy conditions. It’s because you’ve been raised on a generational diet of disappointment, I suspect.
If you saw it all coming how surprised can you really be? In a way, it’s actually your fault.
Societies that have endured oppression, and centuries of it at that, do not behave or conduct themselves like societies that have not.
We’re punch drunk. It’s what makes us such a set up for each successive invading horde, be they colonial, clerical, political or financial.
In Ireland we have learned that this is how the game is played. Every new landlord needs some serfs.
But it is new even in Ireland to see that the people oppressing us and blighting our young people’s futures now have Irish surnames themselves.
It’s almost the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Already there is more enthusiasm for the 2016 Euro Football Championship than for the commemoration of the act that changed our history.
The Republic as it now stands would be unrecognizable to the revolutionary men and women of 1916. Their ideals and aspirations for the common good unarguably belong to the ash pile of history. I don’t think we’ll be able to look them in the face.
So my only question now is how long the Irish people can endure it? We have been taken to cleaners so often and given so little in return each time.
All those kings, popes, politicians and bankers literally wiped the map with us for centuries. Do we really not think we deserve any better?