Fintan O’Toole: The Oireachtas golf event broke webs of mutuality that bind Irish society

We must not allow controversy destroy social capital that has kept us going

A sign on a motorway bridge in Dublin calls for the resignations of the people who attended the Oireachtas Golf Society event during the pandemic. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A sign on a motorway bridge in Dublin calls for the resignations of the people who attended the Oireachtas Golf Society event during the pandemic. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

I’ve spent most of the last two months in a small village in County Clare. All around, there are leaflets offering help to anyone who needs it: to shop for basic supplies, to collect prescriptions, “maybe just to talk, especially for those in isolation”, even to walk your dog for you. Almost all of this is provided by a voluntary network of clubs and community organisations, from Lisdoonvarna Community Council to Ballyvaughan GAA, from Burren United FC to North Clare IFA. I presume something similar – and equally marvellous – exists in most communities in Ireland.

There’s a name for this, though not one I particularly like: social capital (why does everything of value have to be imagined as if it were money?). It was popularised by the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam in his 2001 book Bowling Alone.

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