People's lives transformed into a blur by leaders' lack of focus


OPINION:After a few years living in Tuscany, I wondered whether it might be time to move home again. But after two weeks testing the water in Dublin, the answer is clearly no. It’s Arrivederci Irlanda!

THERE’S AN Italian word, vergogna. It means disgrace. Disgrace that blisters the soul a few degrees past redemption. For two weeks now, I’ve been wondering how to project it in 50-foot-high letters on the banks and on Leinster House. A fitting arrivederci! to the festering institutions that have kung-fu kicked the Irish people to the floor.

You see, we took the two-week challenge. And we failed. Two weeks of the two Brians were enough to drive us right back into the arms of Berlusconi. You can say this much about Il Cavaliere: when it comes to screwing, he has the decency to leave the country alone.

For a fortnight, we’ve wandered through devastation. Bertie’s Magic Lantern Show is over. Friends are losing clients of 20 years’ standing. More have swapped Doheny Nesbitts for the dole queue. Compared to the old days, Avoca is a cloister, Powerscourt a morgue.

Even my holy of holies – Dunnes Stores in Cornelscourt where all is well with my world – is a disaster on the day. Tense children wait by airy trolleys. It’s the new drill: no comics, no sweets, no treats.

There’s no more happy shopping. Just sad bargains everywhere. In our hearts we suspect that every euro saved signifies another job lost, another sleepless night, another family shattered. Face it. When small shops are selling at 70 per cent off, in the end, nobody gains. Be in no doubt. Just-post Ryan, this, too, is institutional abuse. Our “leaders” have sold us into financial slavery, pawned our futures, turned our children’s children into indentured servants of the banks.


Ministers talk on the TV about desperately-tough decisions. Keep the thatch crow-black or go for a more subtle heather hue? What they don’t say is that today’s tough decisions are the direct result of their making the wrong ones for the last 3,650 days in a row.

On the radio, women are weeping. It’s not the hair that’s getting to them, it’s the hunger. The dole hasn’t come through. There’s no food in the house. Their husbands’ businesses have closed, so there’s no dole anyway. The cupboards are bare. At least they’ll be thin. And there’s general agreement that the people in social welfare are lovely.

Forget the G8 in l’Aquila. We have our own food security crisis right here at home.

My little girl asks me why everything in Dublin has gone so quiet. Today, Argos was so deserted we wondered if we’d disturbed an armed raid. Would it be that quiet when we go to see Granny and Pat in Cork? I tell her, maybe. Definitely. My old school pals have real tales of real woe.

Our fathers commuted to work on the Innisfallen. For our husbands, and possibly our children, it’ll be standing-room only on Ryanair. The real mystery, though, is the Irish news. In Italy, we read it on the web. Only for days, weeks, months now, the “news” was the same. Judges won’t take voluntary cuts, politicians won’t take voluntary cuts, while everyone else is taking involuntary cuts right on the kisser.

Politicians of every hue take to the airwaves. From our remove, they’re freakily removed from reality, their soundbites giving new meaning to twitter. The truth is “unpatriotic”. Cuts are “savings”. Shameless political self-preservation is sudden-onset “responsibility”.

Bankrupting bankers are untouchable, the Minister for Finance telling an apoplectic Vincent Browne that these international men of mystery have contracts, you know.

So had the rest of us. This is not Kafka. This is a parish-pump farce. One that reveals a deep, dangerous fracture in Irish life. People listen to the estranged politicians, look at their wreckage of their lives and wonder if they’re living in The Matrix.

This is serious. Deadly serious. We’re not just losing money here. Too often, we’re losing our minds, our lives. Scared parents wander the house at night, watching the children sleeping, wondering how long they’ll be able to keep their job, their head, their home.

Distracted men (usually) are doing away with themselves in sheds, hotels, rivers, lakes. Small, devastating exits. The ultimate personal response to political and financial treason. Yes, we’re still dying for Ireland. And the megabankers are still on the golf course, blind to the fates of mortals. A perverse acquittal granted them by the State.

Vergogna! Vergogna!

Our ruined people didn’t “lose the run of themselves”. They worked hard, got a mortgage, got a life, paid their taxes. Critically – and here’s the thing – when they asked their leaders for reassurance before the last general election, they were told “No problem, trust us. Aren’t we the lads? The good times will continue to roll.”

Not because this was necessarily true. But because this “positive message” was what people wanted to hear. And how did the politicians know this? Intuition? God forbid. No. Their focus groups were telling them.

Now, politicians approach focus groups like deranged vivisectionists. So when the focus groups said they wanted good news, boy did they get it. The queen would bear 12 strapping sons, the fairies of wealth and wishes would bless every crib, the land would prosper, the sun would shine on the kingdom forever and a day. In the end, this was market-tested, discounted, big-box “Surf” posing as leadership, competence, vision. Now, the country is washed out and there’s not a hope in hell of us getting our money back.

So, after a couple of weeks in the war, we’re getting the hell back to Italy where Irish bankers make Italian bankers look like a bunch of Calvinists. I’ll proudly pay my taxes here. Why? I’m an Irish-lifer. I love my country, our people. And in the end, while governments might govern, it’s we who rule. Like the man on RTÉ’s Playback explaining, matter-of-factly, how he used his redundancy to pay off his debts. The secret scripture of the poor.

The politicians are off on their holliers. The gardaí are busy at the bank. Projectionist wanted. Vergogna. Disgrace.

Miriam O’Callaghan, a writer, is back in Florence

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