Martina Devlin: The nation is nursing a furious rage against litany of injustices and something is going to give
Published 13/12/2012 | 17:00
A Persian fable tells how a potentate instructed his wise men to devise something that would be true equally in good times as in bad. After deliberating, they offered the following: "This too shall pass."
A Jewish version puts King Solomon at the heart of the story, while other traditions have their variations. When Abraham Lincoln became aware of the phrase, he used it in a speech in 1859, attributing it to an Eastern monarch's advisers.
Whatever its provenance, those four words chime within the Irish context.
They point to the inevitability of change: the one constant in life.
Some thought the boom would never end, or if it did it would be with a whimper rather than a bang. But they passed into history. And now we wait out the austerity years, which show no sign of winding up – although logic and experience dictate they must.
Four years down, one more to go until Ireland exits the bailout programme, and nobody can be sure how many more years afterwards before confidence returns. It all depends on whether the economic forecasts for growth are correct.
Uncertainty is a particularly trying characteristic of any crisis: we don't know exactly how far through the cycle we have travelled because the future remains doubtful. Lack of clarity adds to the burden.
Meanwhile, the young are emigrating – "this too shall pass" is no motto for young people trying to make their way. As for those who remain behind, an attempt is under way to weather the storm.
And so we wait. Some are born to wait, some achieve an ability to wait and some have waiting thrust upon them. Ireland is a country with a long tradition of waiting. Perhaps that's why hordes of us aren't on the streets making our dissatisfaction felt – discontent appears largely internalised.
Among Belfast loyalists, by comparison, whatever about their methods, there is no doubting how passionately they feel about flying the Union Jack. Here, in the wake of unpopular austerity measures, street protests are relatively subdued affairs.
There is deep-seated resentment, but anger is muted. Perhaps stoicism tempers it. Calls to patriotic duty are not influencing public inaction – instead, people seem to have concluded they have no choice right now but to take the pain.
The Savita Halappanavar rally in Dublin a few weeks ago was unusual in its scale, and may have been prompted by a visceral response to her death.
"Why aren't Irish people protesting against austerity? Aren't they furious?" We hear those questions asked again and again.
Personally, I find myself gripped with rage about so many examples of flawed decision-making, or evidence of vested interests ruling the roost. Revenge will come at the ballot box.
Hardly a day goes by without something new to provoke indignation. If it's not the Government's spectral hand following old people into the grave to take a pound of flesh from their estates, it's learning the State is lining up Yellow Pack-rate nurses – having already established a two-tier scheme of teachers.
And as for pruning the respite grant for family carers – what a squalid day's work that was. The Coalition won't easily weather such a cut.
Anger that's internalised has to emerge somewhere. It hasn't manifested itself as concerted action on the streets, but it must bubble out ultimately – whether in increased rates of depression or suicide, marriage breakdown, or alcohol or substance abuse.
Perhaps people are too consumed by their individual difficulties to protest; perhaps we have more in common with the 'stiff upper lip' British than our other European neighbours; perhaps there is a pervading sense that the troika's way was chosen for us, and onward we must plod.
Perhaps, too, trade union involvement tends to be needed for large-scale demonstrations. In which case, next February should bring interesting times, with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions lining up rallies round the country during Ireland's EU presidency.
Other emotions are at play among Irish citizens, apart from resentment and anger. Fear is a strikingly visible one which has people by the throat now, and with good reason – but what a devitalising, destructive effect it has.
Shame is apparent, too. Some are ashamed of our indebtedness, both personally and as a nation – while we didn't all party, some made imprudent financial decisions, for example in the buy-to-let market.
Another source of shame can be traced to some of the decisions taken on our behalf by the Government. Running errands in Dublin city centre on Tuesday, I paused to watch as family carers and some of the relatives they look after protested outside the Dail.
I found myself unable to look these good people in the face: despite the justice of their cause, there were only a few hundred of them. Not much consolation telling them that this too shall pass.
But walking away from that brave, small group outside Leinster House, it was impossible not to be conscious of a potential explosion fermenting in Ireland. The weight of austerity can only deaden people for so long.