The Christmas shopping season began very early this year, not only in Ireland, but in most of Europe. We were not really enthused by having the Christmas lights switched on during the early days of November, but recognised it as part of a desperate effort to encourage commerce, and maybe even some comfort shopping.
We are, however, bewildered by the swift change in our economic situation, angry with our government and unable to understand exactly what has gone wrong. Self-congratulation has been replaced, almost overnight, by national self-denigration. Last year’s prophets of gloom were lonely and were treated with scorn; they have been proven right.
If we are absolutely honest, we will admit that our government suffered from a very strong commitment to our own new Credo: complete trust in the construction industry and utter faith in the inherent benevolence of market forces. In the midst of all the current negativity, it helps when we remind ourselves that the mistakes we made are international, rather than uniquely ours, that Spain is even more depressed than ourselves and that Iceland’s uninhibited love affair with international banking has led to disaster.
When the Celtic Tiger was roaring, we became distracted. The homeless and drug addicts do not vote, so we forgot about them. The response to crime was to lock criminals up, rather than try to rehabilitate them. We needed immigrants to keep the economy moving, but we ignored the presence of people who were “trafficked” here. Trafficking involves the smuggling and exploitation of people from poorer countries. It is an international scandal and is the downside of globalisation. It is grimy and not very newsworthy, so it receives little attention.
The celebration of selfishness, expressed in the building of gated communities and in advertising campaigns that appealed to our egoism, briefly became a national characteristic. The ideal Irish man or woman was portrayed as young, expensively dressed and groomed, self-centered, fast moving, forgetful of and/or contemptuous toward the past, devoted to consumerism and contentedly godless.
Godlessness is basic to this worldview. It is fashionable and fits into the mainstream of contemporary European thought, which emphasises that religion is private as well as personal. Green policies become a substitute religion, even to the extent of regarding humanity as a polluting rather than a sinful entity.
As the recession began to bite, during the summer of 2008, our government went on holiday and then returned to work, uttering prophecies of doom. A rushed Budget then hurt the oldest and the most vulnerable amongst us. The ensuing uproar took everybody in government by surprise. How can our politicians have become so remote from the rest of us?
Our Green Party is usually regarded, and seems to regard itself, as being above criticism. Its leaders are given some of the attributes of living saints, but all its Dáil deputies stood to applaud a very unjust Budget, thereby showing that they may have sold their souls for power.
As jobs vanish and many mortgage holders find themselves with negative equity, appeals to patriotism are hollow, not least when they come from people who live in great comfort. There is, of course, no longer any appeal to religious motivation. Our continued commitment to Third World issues, even when we have been at our most materialist, is proof of the fundamental decency which it the stance of the vast majority of Irish people. It is this trait, rather than any other, on which our leaders should rely.