Monday 23 September 2019

Jason O'Mahony: 'Rees-Mogg's plummy tones might be the answer we need to shame our litter louts'

Shameless: Public littering is barely seen as a social crime. Photo: Garrett White
Shameless: Public littering is barely seen as a social crime. Photo: Garrett White

Jason O'Mahony

Shane Ross, Minister for Political Symbolism and Political Forrest Gumping, posing next to an electric car charger that didn't work set off a train of thought in my head.

For a start, I'm a sceptic about electric cars: you hear so many nightmare stories about their range and charging time you sometimes wonder why they don't come with a Fred Flintstone-style hatch in the floor so you can at least make some progress with your own feet as a last resort.

Perhaps we could kill two public policy birds with one stone by putting some sort of pedalling mechanism into the cars so that on long-haul journeys you could get a workout and charge your battery together.

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Tackle both the climate change and obesity crisis at the same time?

At least until some opposition pol insists that if elected they'll get the government to put someone else in your car to pedal for you.

I get why we need to switch over to electric cars. I just don't have faith the technology has reached the point that I can have confidence I won't end up dragging my car along the road with the same gusto as a sloth with asthma.

That's not my only cause for doubts. The other reason I refuse to commit is because at the moment being a responsible electric car driver means being at the mercy of other citizens doing their civic duty.

To make sure the charger actually works, and to not park their conventional car in the charging space because as many do with cycle lanes, they'll "only be a minute and sure nobody uses those things anyway".

By which, by the way, they mean: "I don't use those things and eff the rest of you."

How is it in a country that goes on endlessly about solidarity and social justice and cherishing all the nation's children equally that we have such little respect for our shared spaces, and the fact they exist for all of us?

In defence of the Irish people, at least charging bay bandits are not doing that surreal thing American right-wing headbangers do, parking their SUVs in charging bays to make some sort of ideological point.

No, this is just pure good old-fashioned selfishness and it got me thinking.

I'm a liberal. I'm opposed to the death penalty. But as I get older, I begin to think that maybe, just maybe, I might agree to public flogging for certain crimes like public littering.

Like blocking up charging bays, we have a very funny attitude to our shared public spaces.

I've seen parents direct children to dump packaging out of car windows without a second thought.

You just know that if a garda took action the response from the parents (and a good section of the public) would be: "Have you nothing better to be doing?"

I once challenged someone on a bus about dropping a sweet wrapper and their anger was both menacing but also fascinating. Were they embarrassed at their action, or genuinely infuriated at me for not "minding my own business" as they said?

I've seen people come out of fast food places, walk straight past a bin and throw wrappers on the ground, and what's always striking is the look on their faces. They literally are not thinking about it. This is an object that is no longer of any value to them and they want rid of it and that's all that matters.

By the way: please, spare me the "there aren't enough bins" nonsense. That wrapper is your property. You bought it. The fact that you no longer want it is not the Government's problem and if you think it is and toss it on the ground then that raises a bigger issue about you.

Do you even notice litter?

Is it normal for you to walk down streets strewn with rubbish and think nothing of it?

As a nation, we're big on rights but not on duty. You meet people who have been given too much change back in a shop and they immediately justify it by suggesting the establishment in question was robbing them anyway, without any sense of shame.

That's not everyone, of course. There are plenty of people in residents associations and tidy towns committees brimming with pride about their estate or town, and fair play to them. But it is regarded as barely a social crime to litter.

How do you change that?

Some Dublin local authorities run ads in cinemas about litter, about a bin (literally) tackling litterers. I'm not sure what the message is, but we don't really do shame.

Put an English chap on the telly, however, talking about how dirty Ireland is and all sorts of head-the-balls come out of the pub roaring and shouting.

Maybe that's the anti-litter ad we should do. A load of English people talking about how filthy Ireland is, but how you can't blame the Irish because they don't know any better.

How it's normal for the Irish to live in their own filth.

All delivered by nice plummy Jacob Rees-Mogg accents, talking about how Paddy is just too stupid to appreciate the concept of shared public spaces and so should be forgiven.

Played over images of real Irish people defacing our own spaces.

Picture after picture of real filthy Irish streets. Fading out on the slogan: "Remember: we don't want to end up like the Irish. Keep England tidy."

I suspect we might get a reaction to that.

Irish Independent

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