The primary cultural event in Ireland in 2016 was the remembrance of the Easter Rising in 1916, when a band of rebels took on the might of the British Empire, setting in motion a sequence that would eventually lead to Irish independence.
Countless gatherings and ‘celebrations’ were held throughout the country with the various political parties attempting to exploit the occasion for their own political ends while simultaneously adopting a facade of reverence.
Rarely has the history of Ireland and all of its complexities been distilled and sanitized into such nuggets of crud, soundbites for an uncaring generation.
As I stood on O’Connell Street in Dublin watching the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, a few weeks before the Easter Rising Commemorations, it was impossible not to take a long look at the towering GPO building where the rebels made their most famous stand.
What might Pearse and Connolly think of the Government officials and by extension the people who elected them, who crowded around the building where they made such a sacrifice?
In an Ireland beset with such inequality is it not the fact of the inequality that might cause their despair but rather the scale of it.
THE SINGLE BIGGEST PROBLEM FACING IRELAND
As the marching bands from Ohio and Mexico boomed past the GPO on that Saint Patrick’s Day a glance up O’Connell street would reveal another edifice to its own era. The era we live in.
The Dublin Spire was completed at the height of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom in 2003. It is basically an epic ‘folly’ in the same tradition as the nineteenth-century ‘follies’ that dot the landscape of these islands. Aristocratic families and eccentrics with more money than sense would create these usually useless buildings usually just to decorate their landscape.
Frequently these towers and walls and obelisks did not beautfy their surroundings but simply remained as a symbol of their instigators hubris. ‘Look at us! look at what we can do’.
The spire is essentially a metal spike that rises from the ground. Quite why it was selected ahead of the many architectural alternatives remains a mystery.
This is no Luxor Obelisk as in the center of Paris. This is no Washington Monument and it is certainly no Lateran Obelisk as in Rome.
But the Dublin Spire does have one major advantage over these other vaulted designs in that it perfectly epitomizes the distress being endured by the citizenry who inhabit its immediate landscape.
You see, for many of the people of Ireland the Dublin Spire is symbolic of one thing and one thing only: Drugs.
Its resemblance to a hypodermic needle rising from the ground just yards from where the 1916 rebels were pounded by a British gunship is incredibly evocative. Once you have seen it as such it is impossible not to recall that symbolism.
In many regards Ireland is no different from so many other countries of the world in that the major cause of its problems can be traced to drugs. A typical drug-user will be engaged in begging, prostitution and criminality and will have a greater need for hospital services than his or her fellow Irish men or women.
They will haunt the streets of Dublin, gaunt and in a stupor, bedraggled and desperate, akin to the lost souls remembered by the famine memorial statues on the quays beside the River Liffey that they sometimes beg beside. They will harass anyone who enters their orbit, engaging in a pseudo-language that can be hard to understand.
They are the walking dead, destroying their own lives like the Vampires they resemble, the undead imagined by Bram Stoker who lived just a few short miles along Dublin bay at Fairview.
They are pitied and feared.
Health services, Police services, Prison services, Rehab services: All overwhelmed by the blight of drugs that is washing over the country just as effectively as the Blight that contributed to the Famine over a century and a half ago.
Perhaps it is the same in your country, your city? But can I suggest that your city does not have an actual metal spike at its heart, reminding those who choose to make the connection of the spire with the single greatest failure that continues to besiege this Irish Republic.
And as with almost all societal ills, education is the key. The silver bullet to cure our ills. Educate young people, keep them away from poison. Treat those who peddle the poison harshly and treat those who are on the front line (Garda, Nurses), with respect and a decent wage.
Teachers, An Garda Siochana, Nurses, Doctors. The people who really keep this country going. Undervalued.
The spire. The greatest challenge we face.
The Emigration Plan
There has been much talk about the improving economy in Ireland. Unemployment continues to fall and at the start of 2017 was 7.1%, down from well over 15% just a few short years ago. On the surface this seems like a remarkable turnaround and in some ways it is.
But an examination of the numbers reveal a lie. The lie is that unemployment is down mainly due to the massive (tens of thousands), number of young people who have left Ireland forever in the wake of the 2008-2010 financial crash.
America, Australia, Canada and the UK. The usual ports of call for the desperate Irish saw huge influxes of Irish people escaping the prospect of no work and little hope. A new ‘lost generation’.
Of course the fact that the builders’ cranes are starting to dot the landscape again is anecdotal evidence that things are improving. If the builders are busy then the economy is busy too, goes the old adage.
Yet this too is a lie and an even more dangerous one. While it is true that there has been an increase in building activity it has to be acknowledged that this is coming from a very, very low starting position.
And just because the M50 motorway is clogged again it does not mean that all of the drivers using that overused roadway are promoting economic growth.
IRELAND’S 13-STEP PLAN FOR RUINATION
Anecdotal evidence of the type mentioned above can be very dangerous. Because it leads us into a false sense of security. It helps us to walk the path of least resistance until that path leads to ruin.
A review of the sequence of events that led to the last financial crash that began in 2008 makes grim reading, because Ireland is already walking the same path.
1. Acknowledge that there is a housing crisis and a need to build more homes. DONE.
2. Incentivize builders. DONE.
3. Loosen planning regulations to allow more properties to be built. DONE.
4. Incentivize young couples in their bid to buy property. DONE.
5. Relax financial regulation. DONE (very recently).
6. Grant permission to build so many properties that an influx of foreign workers are needed to help build them. NEXT.
7. Start to build homes for the foreign workers, driving more demand.
8. Reduce taxes so that everyone can own multiple properties.
9. Repeat steps 1 to 8.
10. Crash the banks and burn the economy, driving another generation of Irish youth out of the country.
11. Increase taxes, reduce services (‘austerity’ policies). Reduce investment in infrastructure, education, policing, healthcare.
12. Create a more emboldened criminal class who peddle drugs and violence causing greater strain on the recently under-resourced health and policing services.
13. Reduce investment in education which is perhaps the single magic bullet that can save the country from the mess it is in.
And then when the 13 steps are completed we can reflect for a few years, have a few Government investigations into what went wrong and start all over again.
This is a dangerous moment for Ireland, because the recent announcement that the Central Bank have relaxed their mortgage lending rules means that we have completed step 5 on the list above already!
And this only a few short years after the last crash that brought down the Irish banks and forced every Irish citizen into permanent hoc to EU-backed German and French financial institutions when they blackmailed the country into penury.
It is even more dangerous because the last financial crisis from 2008 is not even over yet! The Greek debt problem has been ‘kicked down the road’. It still exists. The Greeks have no means to repay the huge debts that they have been saddled with.
The Italian economy is progressing down the 13 steps outlined above and is in the middle of step 10. The huge Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank is being bailed out by the Italian Government to the tune of 20 Bn Euro. This huge amount of cash wont nearly be enough to save it.
Currently the Italian banks are saddled with 360 Billion Euro of bad or under-performing debt.
That represents about one third of the entire Eurozone amount of banking crud.
How can the Italian economy possibly survive under these circumstances?
With impending turmoil in Europe the Irish powers-that-be would be wise to be a lot more prudent, circumspect and humble than they are being right now. But the Irish political elite does not do ‘circumspect’ or ‘humble’.
And yet at the current pace it will likely be 7 to 10 years, maybe less, before Ireland breaches step 9, repeating the mistakes of the past.
THE GREAT LITTLE COUNTRY
It has to be acknowledged that the doom-laden predictions above are at severe odds with the way Ireland is frequently perceived abroad.
The ‘Global Peace Index’ says that Ireland is Among the Most Peaceful Countries in the World.
The Legatum Prosperity Index says that Ireland Ranks in Top Ten on the World Prosperity Chart.
The Good Country Index lists Ireland as The Very Best Country In The World!
And of course it is not all doom and gloom. Far from it.
In the Ireland of 2017 there is much to admire, much to be grateful for.
Rarely have our writers and actors punched so far above their collective international weight. Ruth Negga is the Ethiopian-Irish actor who has just been nominated for an Academy Award. Saoirse Ronan, Colm Farrell, Michael Fassbender, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Aidan Gillen, Ciarán Hinds. All uniquely marvelous.
The writer William Trevor who died in 2016 was regarded as one of the greatest short story writers of the last century. Colm Tóibín was on the shortlist for ‘The Booker Prize’ in 2013. The highly regarded Sebastian Barry was nominated in 2005 and 2008 and recently won the ‘Costa Novel Award’ for the second time.
Irish artistic achievement has rarely excelled as much as the current generation.
Lets just hope that in the coming years the Irish people can try to emulate our artists soaring success and live up to the high regard that out great little country is held in by other nations.