Oliver Callan: If this is a recovery, Ireland might be better off with the disease

Need proof that materialist excess is back in vogue? Take a look at the political class

Leo Varadkar: The Taoiseach is all about the glitz. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Leo Varadkar: The Taoiseach is all about the glitz. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The concept of a recovery is a return to health from sickness. In Ireland’s case, that sickness was probably 2006, when the boom brought out the worst in us: crass displays of wealth, disregard for the future and for one another, shocking waste in public services, poor planning, low-quality building and a rise in anti-immigration sentiment.

If we are in a recovery now, what have we recovered from exactly? Because this latter part of 2018 feels a lot like 2006. The material vulgarity versus inequality is back, and it’s worse than before. The volume has risen in booked-out bars and restaurants. The Range Rovers and Mercs of 2006 have simply become the Volvo SUVs and Teslas of 2018. The waste and destruction of the environment is in fashion again, but you’re apparently grand as long as your Aperol Spritz comes with a paper straw.

If we needed proof that the sickness of excess is back in vogue, take a look at the political class. A presidential race packed with candidates bragging about their business prowess as if creation of wealth were an innate talent rather than a flair for opportunism.

After Brian Cowen’s infamous 2009 sing-song, partying displays were avoided by politicians. Until swinging 2018 arrived. The Taoiseach is all about the glitz, quaffing Champagne at his party’s think-in and travelling about by helicopter. He’s driven in a BMW 735i, possibly the most luxurious and expensive State car in the history of the office. He dons expensive Canali suits and chats to showbiz columnists about flash city breaks. His ostentatious lifestyle is now so normal, it’s not even remarked upon.

There were zero new Bentleys bought in Ireland last year. In 2018, there were six by June

He’s just doing what other rich people do. The Champagne tent at the 2018 Dublin Horse Show was bursting, and the thunder of choppers returned to the Galway Races. There’s the tell-tale rise in drug busts, mostly involving cocaine, pointing to the burgeoning party scene in towns and cities.

The new selfish

The old arrogance is back, but new to this boom are those wretchedly selfish people who like to Facetime on loud speaker in public places or play screechy videos out loud. You can try giving the death stare but these people haven’t unbowed their heads since Twitter began.

Amid the normality of homelessness, despairing tenants and defeated home-buyers, appears the Bentley Bentayga, an SUV that costs €450,000. There were zero new Bentleys bought in Ireland last year. In 2018, there were six by June.

Has there ever before been more concerts on sale? It’s €149 for one seat to see the remains of the Spice Girls in Croke Park. Another event in the 3Arena had €12 in various fees and charges. We just spend without thinking. Despite being one of the most indebted countries on Earth, we’re among the most expensive for housing, food, petrol, coffee and wine, and among their biggest consumers.

The recovery partying is so out of control, Irish Rail had to ban drinking on trains to Galway and Westport

Remember the hoo-ha about the astonishing piles of waste left behind by Electric Picnic revellers, including pricey tents and camping gear? The 2019 event will be bigger by 2,500 and it sold out before a single act was announced. We’re going to need a bigger landfill.

The lifting of the Good Friday pub ban this year was passed off as a secular move, rather than what it truly is, a way of making more cash and doing squeezed workers out of a rare guaranteed day off.

The recovery partying is so out of control, Irish Rail had to ban drinking on trains to Galway and Westport. There were queues at Dublin Airport in October as MMA fans splurged their cash on a weekend trip to watch Conor McGregor fight in Vegas. A house party watching it in Monaghan ended in the death of a young man. McGregor is the ideal poster boy of the recovery, turning court appearances into entertainment and winning more praise the more he breaks the law.

Steroid bodies

The new boom sees young people literally dying to get the perfect body, an image of the self sold by soulless social media stars promoting their phoney lives. In July an inquest found a Limerick teenager died after the use of a muscle-building steroid. Still, 20 per cent of Irish youngsters want to take steroids to get Love Island bodies.

Despite a slew of charity scandals, there’s a surge in chuggers on Dublin streets this Christmas. A new casino opened on O’Connell Street. One newspaper had a luxury ski-holiday pull-out. The Aer Lingus workday tea break emails are back, asking if we “Fancy a shopping trip to New York?” These repeat tricks from the old boom show how uncreative this new one truly is. Another old chestnut, racism, has returned. In October, a European report showed a steady rise in violent race crime in Ireland, the highest level of such abuse since records began.

The new boom is horrible, but hey, the Minister for Finance has adorable dimples when he says the recovery is only flying. If the economy is thriving, then why are hospital waiting lists at historic highs and mental health appointments for children taking two years? Where’s the broadband? The houses? Why are working people entering the homeless system and others, too humiliated to do so, trapped paying rack rents?

This is no recovery, unless that period during the recession when we briefly cared about young people emigrating and the poor dying in doorways was the real sickness. If that’s the case, then send ourselves a card, because the worst is over. We’ve well and truly recovered from caring.

Oliver Callan is a writer and satirist

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