Roisin Ingle on ... singing a new tune

Sat, Mar 16, 2013, 06:00

You hear the phrase so often these days, you’d almost believe it was a useful thing to say. It’s so pervasive you might even be convinced it was a valid topic for small talk. You’d be forgiven for trotting it out yourself in casual conversation, at a dinner party, say, or in the supermarket or at the bus stop. You hear it so much on the radio that the phrase has crept in like the chorus of a dodgy summer hit you can’t help humming to yourself as you walk around the house even though the verbal earworm is the most annoying thing you’ve ever heard: “Our children, and our children’s children are going to be paying for this in generations to come”.

Repeat and repeat and repeat to fade.

Maybe it was like this at the end of the second World War in Britain, when the cost of the crisis was being totted up. Perhaps they were knocking themselves out talking about how when their grandchildren were around they would still be paying off the war debt. Because they would, of course. That’s the way it goes. Some things are just as certain as death and taxes. We will leave behind bad stuff that future generations will have to deal with, a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Just as we will leave good stuff which they might – but don’t hold your breath – thank us for.

Whatever happens, future generations are still going to look back and think that on some level we’ve made a total hames of things. Philip Larkin said it about the legacy of parents everywhere, “They f**k you up, your mum and dad, they may not mean to, but they do,” but it’s just as appropriate in this case.

And while I don’t really want to be seen knowing every word to In The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics, I will quote it here in a blatant attempt to advance my point. “Every generation, blames the one before. And all of their frustrations come beating on your door.” They are going to blame us anyway, no need to keep reminding them 24/7 about the mess we are making and the terrible lives they can expect to lead on account of our mistakes.

Lately I’ve been thinking I wouldn’t want to be in my 20s and living here now with the soundtrack of sadness that passes for national conversation. Only this week at an EU Youth Conference in Dublin the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, warned in a speech about high youth employment that Eu rope can’t afford to have “a lost generation of young people”. Then the director of the National Youth Council, Mary Cunningham, ramped it up a notch. She didn’t just think we were at risk of losing a generation “we have [my italics] a lost generation now”.

I know both women mean well and are concerned about high youth unemployment but the phrase “lost generation” puts me in mind of poppy fields in Normandy not dole queues in Dublin. Labelling a whole generation as “lost” can’t be good for morale. Is it true though? Or at least is it the whole truth? Talking to Irish people in their 20s from all sorts of backgrounds this week it turns out many of them are singing a different tune. We may be busy saddling this and future generations with an expectation of failure with all our hopeless talk but thankfully many of them are not buying it.

They hear all the keening for them, their children and their children’s children but they are making a conscious decision to turn the sound down on our bleating. They are building and creating and learning and being excited at the prospect of being young and in Ireland. They don’t feel the only option is a departure lounge in Dublin airport. They are still here. Happy to be here. Imagine that. Happy to be a young person in the Ireland of 2013.

Because the truth is that in comparative terms being born in Ireland and growing up here is still, as the more glass half full among us have been saying, a bit like being handed a winning ticket in the lottery of life. And if you have the right attitude, as many of our young people do, you can still build a fulfilling life in this country.

So this St Patrick’s weekend let’s give up breathing life into all the doomsday predictions by repeating them ad nauseum. I refer you once again to the tao of Mike and the Mechanics because if the people who can’t stop talking about how terrible everything is keep on the way they are going they’ll “only sacrifice the future and it’s the bitterness that lasts”.

Our children and our children’s children deserve way better than that.
roisin@irishtimes.com