Glimmers of hope on the homefront


OPINION:After my last trip back to Ireland three years ago, I wrote in these pages about what I found. Judging from the comments underneath the online version of the article, this displeased a lot of people. But name-calling by anonymous trolls is grist to the mill, so here goes again.

I had hoped and expected that Ireland and Europe would be out of the economic doldrums by now, but the sheer number of Irish people arriving in Australia in recent years has shown that wasn’t the case. The people I spoke with at home (bar a couple of naysayers) seemed more positive and upbeat than they were three years ago, though. The fact that everyone suddenly knows what a promissory note is shows how economic factors have become part of daily life.

It might just be a case of Stockholm Syndrome in relation to Ireland’s troika captors, but there is a definite sense from people that the worst is over, and a corner has been turned. Hopefully this year will bring some long-lost economic sunshine. But can I add my voice to those saying you need to speculate to accumulate? Endless austerity is not enough. The economic collapse began five years ago; maybe it’s time for a little bit of Plan B?

One benefit of economic strictures is that most things are noticeably cheaper. The corollary, that things are expensive in Australia, was mentioned to me by several people, and I also saw it referenced on Fair City. The soap opera story line indicated that emigration to Australia is now ingrained in the public mind.

One thing that has not changed much, unfortunately, is the constant state of rage in Northern Ireland. This time it’s loyalists protesting over the union flag. I know flags have a deep meaning in Northern Ireland, but if all your hopes and dreams are bound up in a coloured piece of cloth, then you need new hopes and dreams. As an Australian friend who spent six years living in Dublin said: “They’re the tail end of a sad and sorry time in Ireland.”

I had forgotten about the prevalence of smoking in Ireland, and to hear independent TD Finian McGrath defending what he sees as smokers’ rights in the Dáil was extraordinary. Did people miss the memo that smoking causes death in 50 per cent of those who use it?

Smoking rates in Australia are down to 16.4 per cent of males, and 13.9 per cent of females, aged 14 years or older. And those rates continue to fall due to high tobacco taxes, mass-media public-education campaigns, smoke-free-environment legislation and the world’s first plain packaging law, which means all cigarettes are sold in generic packs without branded logos.

It is good to hear similar packaging laws are planned in Ireland. The fact that a retailers’ group is protesting about it outside the Dáil is proof positive it will work.

Horse meat vouchers

The horse burger story and the closure of HMV were prominent while we were at home. I was particularly amused with a joke told by my nephew that conjoined these tales. “Did you hear Tesco is taking HMV vouchers?” he asked. “Horse-meat vouchers.”

My sister gave me a HMV voucher for Christmas, which thankfully I had spent within two hours of receiving it, though it was hard enough to find anything I wanted. Apart from the loss of jobs, it is sad that with the closure of the two HMV stores, Limerick is now a city without a record shop.

A brief foray to Dublin felt like a 1980s retro trip when I was delighted to bump into both Kevin Sharkey and Pat Ingoldsby (if those names mean nothing to you then you didn’t watch RTÉ in the 1980s). The current Labour Party leadership must also be experiencing a 1980s déjà vu with The Irish Times’s revelations of Worker’s Party “special activities” from way back when.

One of the highlights of our trip was a wonderful day in Dingle where we saw sunshine for the first time since leaving Australia, but we were disappointed not to encounter the Tralee Pulp Fiction characters on the way there.

While walking to the supermarket on the day we got back to Sydney, I met two Irish people working on a building project. The woman, from Louth, was working in traffic control (as are many other young Irish women in Sydney), while the man, from Wicklow, was working in construction.

It was a salient reminder that young Irish people continue to be forced abroad to find work.

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