Wednesday 28 September 2016

We have swapped idealism for apathy and confusion

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 20/01/2016 | 02:30

Conor McGregor has become a national hero.
Conor McGregor has become a national hero.

What's the obvious connection between the growth of modern Sinn Féin and the 1916 Rising?

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Last Friday week, there was a segment on the Late Late Show about the 1916 commemorations with a panel comprising historian Robert Ballagh, journalist Martina Devlin, Ivan Yates and performer/comedian Blindboy Boatclub of The Rubberbandits, who got the warmest reception of the evening for the frank views on how life for his generation (18-30 somethings) is arguably worse than 100 years ago.

"They had it incredibly hard but what we don't have is the idealism that they had," he said, referencing World War I and the (then) recent industrial revolution. People today "can't afford houses or to have children, they are leaving the country or jumping in rivers."

"We don't know who the enemy is. When there was an Empire, the Brits, with the guns, you knew who the enemy was. Now, we are in a state of confusion."

How true is that! We keep being told that we are doing well, that the good days are, if not quite back, on the way. But it doesn't feel like that.

Instead, there is a big empty hole inside.

At a practical level, this is partly due to the emigration of a whole swathe of bright young people, if not from the country entirely, then from the communities where their energy and enthusiasm is greatly needed.

Or just think about the upcoming general election. I will vote, as I always have. Because this is what I was brought up to do. But, other than those directly involved, most of us are largely disengaged from politicians and the electoral process.

Last year's referendum on marriage equality proved that young people will engage on an issue that they can relate to and feel strongly about.

But somewhere along the road, Irish society has lost some of its vital appetite and spirit. Tame does not suit us. We need something to drive us on, in our hearts.

Is it that we don't know who/what we should be fighting, the targets are too numerous or we just worn out from shallow promises and the effort of keeping our heads above water?

I don't have much hope that any other government would have done or will do any better; or different. But where is the vision, to make us feel we are striving together towards something better?

Health service

The health service, in particular, remains a source of despair. Nobody seems to be able to fix it, even in the good times. Though there are many others, including our energy policy, the sale of national assets to private interests, the rise in violent rural crime and the lack of state support for childcare.

Could this be the reason why Conor McGregor is suddenly a national hero? It's not just his success we admire but also his irreverence and air of danger?

Are the whiff of cordite and sense of possibility the main reasons for the advance of Sinn Féin and why it has not lost as much ground recently as might have been anticipated, given its various controversies?

If someone had said to me when I was a twenty something that a party which openly declares that it is "dedicated to the reunification of Ireland and an end to British jurisdiction in the north of Ireland" would possibly be the second largest party in the Dáil, I wouldn't have believed it.

That may not turn out to be the case but it is now an established presence on the political landscape.

There are interesting times ahead.

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