It’s been a rough enough time for Dublin. By the time reporters had descended on Terminal 1, collecting anguished vox pops from would-be travellers trapped in queue purgatory, it had already been decided that the airport shambles could not and would not be regarded as an isolated crisis.
The dysfunction of the country’s international airport was immediately deemed to be just another symptom of a sick city, one that hasn’t been working properly for a long time. Plenty of people quickly stitched the airport into a bleak tapestry of Dublin, a city where the cost of everything is too high, the number of workers are too low and where the basics just keep malfunctioning.
You can decide for yourself whether this kind of gloomy fatalism for the capital is fair. What became very clear to me very fast was the mistake that those seeking to dismiss the city’s detractors kept making.
Some people seem to think that the dissatisfaction that younger people feel with Dublin is a transient problem. They assume that those who don’t like it here will just go elsewhere, spending their twenties and early thirties believing they’ve escaped gentrification in Ireland while probably unwittingly contributing to the gentrification of another European city. The anxieties of jaded youth are dismissed as if they either don’t matter or, in the long term, won’t matter. There is a belief that young emigrants will either return, and find their way through the housing and jobs market. Or, they’ll stay away — at which point, bitter curmudgeons will dismiss their reasons for doing so entirely.
But I think that the struggles younger people have now will be much more formative than people give them credit for, and that the things they feel are alienating them from Ireland now will leave a residual sourness that will be hard to shift. The fairly reasonable assumption that politicians make is that voters are selfish — we care the most about the things that are the centre of the universe in the here and now. Once those things are resolved — we find a house we can afford, we get a job that works for our life, when we’re able to afford to live again — our grievances with the powers that be subside. Even though it’s more likely that we will “fix” problems like the housing crisis by finding our own way to manage through it, rather than the state increasing supply and reducing house prices, it doesn’t matter. There’s a belief that our revolted youth won’t last.
I’m not so sure this is the case. I’m in my thirties now, so beyond the point at which it would be accurate for me to frame my own experience as some kind of correspondence from a jaded young voter.
But now that I have my own front door, I relish the prospect of the day that a politician will finally come knocking on it and I can offload all of the things I wanted to say when I lived in rented accommodation that TDs knew better than to try to canvas. I truly believe that the infuriating struggle I had to find a house will shape my voting intention for a long time to come. So even though I don’t rent anymore, high rents still remain one of the political issues I care most about because the failure to resolve the problem is something I really resent.
Young people feel a deep sense of unfairness about the way things are now. It’s hard not to agree with those who argue that Dublin is hollowing out, that many people can’t afford to live here anymore and certainly not at the comparatively lower wages offered by the industries most struggling for workers at the moment. While these specific issues will hopefully not be long lasting, I think that the effect of them will be. Those who are in power now, whether they know it or not, are building an infamous legacy for themselves with a disenfranchised generation who will remember precisely how unfairness feels.
So when an airport crisis is made out to be more than it is, we have to try to understand why. A significant number of people are utterly beleaguered with the capital at the moment, and are understandably starting to see evidence of a defective Dublin everywhere they look.
The Dublin airport issue was seized on not because short Terminal 1 security queues are a key issue for young people, but because it helped to confirm their suspicion that the people in power may not always know what they’re doing. It reinforces a belief many have that Dublin isn’t working. Why wouldn’t young people take flight?