Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

When will Ireland grow up?

Political paralysis is causing pervasive negativity and hopelessness in Ireland, and is the reason why Kevin Ruairí won’t be coming back, he writes from London.

Mon, Jan 23, 2012, 04:00


Political paralysis is causing pervasive negativity and hopelessness in Ireland, and is the reason why Kevin Ruairí won’t be coming back, he writes from London.

I was born in 1976 so I’m probably a bit old to be considered a child of the Tiger era. But during the boom years, I left Ireland three times to live abroad. I didn’t have to leave – these trips were one-year temporary working holidays, and in each case, I left Ireland with the intention of returning, unless something incredibly worthwhile occurred that made it worth the stay. I did consider myself fortunate that this discretionary option was open to me.
My first trip was to Australia with a group of friends, in my early twenties. Something of a rite of passage for most Irish people these days. My second trip was to New Zealand, and this time I went on my own. On both occasions when I returned to Dublin, there was always work available to me. I worked in “blue chip” tech companies in the western suburbs of Dublin, nothing too extravagant in terms of pay though. My positions were usually low level office administration jobs, never earning more than around €25k a year. I moved into a public sector role in early 2004, and stayed there for four years.

Around early 2008 I was getting itchy feet again, and decided to go to Canada. I wasn’t worried about leaving my job. At that stage there were rumblings of recession, but there had been small dips before, and I was confident I’d be able to find something when I returned. What a difference a year makes! I had considered staying in Canada, with the news from home growing steadily worse, but I was unable to extend my visa. Upon my return, everything was in free fall, the house of cards had collapsed, and I searched in vain for something to get me off the dole.

So after a long and fruitless search, with very little prospects on the horizon, I decided to leave again. I found work in London (and was promoted within six months), and have settled down here, surprisingly well. I have gone for several interviews recently, hoping to move up the ladder in my line of work. I’ve been here over 18 months, and I’ve made friends with English people rather than expats. London is a great city, there is so much to do and see, and although there is a recession in the UK, it doesn’t seem anywhere near as intense or debilitating as the crash in Ireland.

Do I miss Ireland? Will I return some time in the future? The answer to both questions, this time around, is no. Why? Because I can’t see Irish society changing for the better. I moved over to England in the run up to the May 2010 general election, which brought the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats into power. I don’t agree with their joint manifesto, and I find aspects of the Tories highly disagreeable, but the politics of the nation is definitely moving down a very different ideological path to the previous 13 years when Labour was at the helm. There has been a shift, a noticeable change, and this is impacting in areas of education, health, justice, employment, taxation, and so on.

This happens every few years in most modern European countries, where you have a changing of the government, and the pendulum swings between one ideology and another. In Spain for example, power trades between the left and right regularly, giving the Government of the day an entirely different flavour from the previous one. The same happens in Germany, France, Italy, the Scandanavian countries, and so on. Even a country like New Zealand, a small, anglophone, island nation, with a population and society quite similar to that of Ireland, has the left leaning social democrats of the Labour Party, and the right leaning National Party, both of whom are quite different in their politics, personalities, outlook, and economic policies.

If one party has been in power for a long time, and then a new one is elected, it’s often seen as a chance to brush aside the old guard, to “think outside the box”, to move on from the previous government modus operandi which has grown stale, corrupt, or useless. In any modern state, when a populist centre-right party that had been in government for over 13 years was ousted, their place would be taken by a large party of a very different hue. In Ireland, however, the two main political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, are ideologically the exact same, and either one or the other has been in power since the foundation of the state. What’s sad is that the populace seems quite happy to continue with this false dichotomy, a hangover from the civil war.

I don’t lay the blame solely at both parties’ feet for the feeling that things will never change. The Labour Party in Ireland are equal partners in this stagnation. Always content to prop up one or the other of the two, regardless of the differences between them and their coalition partner on key issues, content with their minor share of power, rather than abstaining on principle. Instead of a healthy rotating left/right split, mirroring the rest of the civilised world, we have this bizarre, unending, ménage à trois, a complete anomaly in all of Europe.

I watched with a degree of weariness at the results from the General Election of 2011. Fine Gael elected, and continuing on down the exact same path as their predecessors, propping up failing banks, ploughing ahead with IMF-driven austerity, doing exactly what Fianna Fail would have done in power, the Labour Party quiescent, giving them their majority in the Dail.

Sociologists and historians often look at causes for continued emigration from Ireland, but in my mind, this paralysis is a huge reason for the negativity and hopelessness people feel about the future of the country, and the opportunity to turn things around. Alas, so be it, the public wants what the public gets. If Ireland chooses to fool itself into thinking that there is a real political division out there, that there is a genuine difference between the two civil warhorses, then that is alright with me. I just won’t be a part of it any more.

I answered a ‘no’ earlier to my own question, if I missed Ireland. That’s not strictly true. Sometimes I think about the people I’ve known a long time, the countryside, the music and the history of the place, and I do pine for it. A recent enjoyable encounter with another Gaeilgeoir here in London made me realise that there is a part of me that will always remain Irish. But the economic and political reality was too pervasive, too all-encompassing, to simply brush aside, when I was on the dole after coming back from Canada. It was time to leave. Knowing Ireland, history was inevitably going to repeat itself, there wasn’t going to be any sea change in voting patterns. 90 years since the civil war and the political makeup of the country is still overwhelmingly defined by it. When will Ireland grow up?