Post-holiday blues food for thought on quality of Dublin life
What is it about Dublin that makes it so a difficult place to return to, asks Sean Flynn. In Malaga Airport last Saturday night, the returning holidaymakers were gathered in little huddles contemplating the return to their city.
The mood was dark and negative. Maybe all holidaymakers feel this way after their fortnight in the sun but for the Dublin crew there was a sense of something deeper at work. This wasn't just the customary gripes at the end of a holiday; there was the clear sense that people were no longer proud of where they lived and where they worked and where they were raising their children. There was the sense that they were no longer much taken by the quality of life in their city. The sense that Dublin, for all the hype about the craic and the Temple Bar buzz, has become a difficult city to live in.
One man told of how he was looking forward to sitting in the traffic on Pearse Street on some dank day next November with the lights on and the rain sheeting down. He lives in Whitehall but works in Sandyford; like many others he spends two hours a day in the car groaning about the lousy transport system, with only David Hanly and Eamon Dunphy for company. I thought of him this week when I read how work on some archaeological site might further delay the completion of the M50 - and how the Metro line to the airport might not be ready until 2012. It is good that there is a vested interest to protect our archaeological treasures; it is good, in principle, that a handful of landowners were able to delay work on the M50 extension for several years. But who is there in this society to protect the ordinary "Joe" and to pursue his interests?
The courts can be relied upon to protect and vindicate the rights of the individual - but who is there to look after the overall common good? Someone once said the problem with this country is not that there is too little democracy; rather, there is too much.
Maybe there is something in that.
And what was the best single thing about being on holiday? Probably the lack of menace on the streets of Fuengirola and Mijas in the south of Spain. At 1 a.m. you - and, better still, your teenage children - could saunter round the streets without encountering foul and abusive language, drunkenness and the threat of what they used to call "bovver".
Readers who might like a contrast with this peaceful scene might transport themselves to O'Connell Street on any Saturday night. The sense of menace lurking beneath the litter-strewn surface is so strong you could taste it.
And it is not just this sense of menace that I did not miss in Spain. It is the simple pleasure of being able to use playgrounds and public spaces without seeing them defaced by vandalism, graffiti and theft. In my local park in Drumcondra, the wonderful and still relatively new children's playground is now littered with graffiti. When I visited the other day, some bored local youths were hovering, shouting the kind of coarse language that would have you locked up in some American states. Nearby, at another park in Albert College, the sports nets are removed for safe-keeping after each schoolboy match. Otherwise they would certainly be vandalised and torn apart. You could scarcely make it up.
When I returned to the office on Tuesday, my post-holiday blues were not lifted when a colleague told me of a visit with his elderly mother to the casualty section of the Mater Hospital. In the dead of night, his 86-year-old mother found herself in a queue beside some of the roughest and toughest diamonds this city has to offer.
The casualty section was protected by a team of burly security men. The toilet door had no lock and everything from the toilet bowl to the cistern was securely nailed down. It was, he says, a profoundly dispiriting experience. He wondered why his mother, who had worked hard all her life, had to contend with this. Shortly before my own mother died this year she also visited casualty at the hospital. The doctors and nurses were wonderful but she had to be sent packing at 2 a.m. on a rainy night because there was no bed for her - even though she had collapsed hours earlier at home. The doctor in charge apologised profusely and explained that it was the way things were. I tried to understand.
All of these thoughts - about where I live, about the quality of life here, about how much we seem to have lost - have been racing in my mind since the clouds cleared and the green sodden grass came into view last Sunday. Why do we continue to live here? Why don't we head off to the sun and escape?
The reason, of course, is the people. There is no better company anywhere in the world than in Dublin. There is nowhere I have been where people are as funny and as irreverent. There is no place where so many people refuse to take themselves seriously.
Now if only we could do something about the transport, the crime, the health service, the lack of competition in the professions and in the service industry, the lousy, overpriced restaurants, the ludicrous house prices, the petty vandalism and the lack of real political choice. Then we would have quality in our daily lives.
Sean Flynn is Education Editor of The Irish Times