I AM ANGRY – AGAIN

I am writing this on the 26thof June; an auspicious date in Irish history.  It was on the 26th of June in 1963 that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America touched down in Dublin Airport to begin his four day visit to Ireland.  It was also on the 26th of June (1996) that journalist Veronica Guerin was murdered on the Naas Road. A less well known event occurred on the 26th of June 1920 when my maternal grandfather, George Power was involved in the kidnap of a British General who was fishing on the banks of the River Blackwater just outside Fermoy in North Cork. 
All of these events are playing on my mind as I attempt to formulate my thoughts on the revelations contained in the Anglo Tapes which were made public by the Irish Independent last week.  Let me begin by saying that I am angry…. again.
Over the last five years there have been many times I have been angry.  I have watched from my corner of suburbia, without the benefit of a university degree or even much understanding of economics, as this country was brought to her knees and I was angry.  I watched as the previous Government stumbled along through their last days as if punch drunk from the events that seemed to be overwhelming them and I was angry.
Each so called ‘austerity budget’ since has renewed my anger as I witness some of the most vulnerable in our society being stripped of allowances to which they are entitled and which they need in order to live.  I have been angry at how women seem to have borne an unfair portion of this austerity through cuts to carer’s allowance, child benefit, lone parent allowance, tax on maternity benefit etc. 
Almost five years of anger and this week I am angry all over again.  I have spoken to my neighbours, my friends and colleagues and without exception all are furious.  All found listening to the cavalier conversations of some very well paid senior bankers in Anglo Irish Bank as they discussed pulling a master stroke on our Government to be truly nauseating. 
The truth is that they pulled a master stroke on US, the people of this country.  What kind of schools, I wonder, produce this type of caricature of a man – overly macho, arrogant, insensitives who seem to be so removed (or perhaps insulated) from the effects of their irresponsible banking practices.  Their supercilious, self important guffawing turned my stomach. 
As I wrestled to make sense of how Ireland has come to this point in her history I thought of my grandfather, George Power and the ordinary men and women who almost a century ago managed to secure freedom from what was then probably the most powerful empire on earth.  I think of their bravery, of the risks they took in the years leading up to 1922.
I think of the women who ran messages, who operated as undercover agents within the British administration securing vital information for Collins, I think of the people of towns such as Fermoy who were subjected to looting and rioting by British Troops in retaliation for IRA activity.  I think of the families who risked their lives by providing safe houses for men on the run and of how they hid and smuggled arms to keep the push for freedom going forward. 
Last week has also brought the visit of JFK to Ireland in 1963 back into focus with the 50thanniversary celebrations last weekend in New Ross.  President Kennedy made a wonderful speech when he addressed the joint houses of the Oireachtas.  In it he referenced George Bernard Shaw when he said
“It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”
These words are only 50 years old but where the hell is that combination of hope, confidence and imagination now?  Where are these men and women who can dream of things that never were and ask, why not?  The men and women who were to the forefront of Ireland’s fight for independence were certainly capable of dreaming of things that never were and must have seemed impossible.  They were surely very antithesis to the lily livered bankers we are hearing on the Anglo tapes.
So how has Ireland gone from a being a nation of courage, imagination and action to a passive place where a cohort of greedy immoral bankers can break us and suffer very little consequences for doing so?  And more importantly why has the anger I sense in the community not translated into action?
Just 17 years ago this country got very angry at the murder in broad daylight of journalist Veronica Guerin.  We got angry and we let the heat of that anger be felt by Government.  Within days action had been taken to seize assets of the criminals and the breaking of criminal gangs began in earnest.  Arrests were made and the search for Veronica’s killers was relentless. 
Veronica Guerin, President Kennedy and George Power and his comrades all knew that (to quote Kennedy again) “problems… cannot be solved by sceptics or cynics of those whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.” 

It is beyond time for clear and imaginative leadership.  I am very unconvinced that such is possible in the current government but the very least we, the people of Ireland, can do is to make our anger felt.  We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our children to insist that action is taken now to prosecute those who gambled our entire country.  I am not sure of how this can best be achieved, no more than those who protested Ms Guerin’s murder dreamed of the Criminal Assets Bureau  .. but that is what we elect and pay our TDs for.  It is our job to ensure it happens.

STRANGE DAYS INDEED

The last year or two have been strange ones in lots of ways. I have felt somewhat confused and lost by the death of the Celtic Tiger. My country lost confidence – in its banks, its economy and its Government. And I lost confidence in myself, a fact that I am only realising now.

During the Celtic Tiger years I was happy to be a stay at home mom. The photographer was busy and although we were never loaded or awash with money, we were confident that we would usually have enough to get us by. So he left the cave every day to go and bring home the bacon. I stayed home, tended the fire, kept track of all that needed to be kept track of for the kids and I cooked the bacon (you all know that that is only about 10% of what I and millions of other mothers do, but you can fill in the gaps yourself). I was busy at home and I also did some writing as the inspiration moved me. Latterly I began blogging. We all jogged along nicely. I was happy with my lot and content and grateful to be doing what I felt I should be doing. The photographer felt the same.

Then the world wobbled. Something called Lehman Bros collapsed and a shiver ran down my spine. I was very unsure what all this meant but I know now it was the beginning of a tidal wave of economic misfortune which eventually crashed into the side of the photographer’s business. The world had stopped. It seemed everyone was caught in the headlights of the financial collapse, frozen, unable to move. I watched the lines on his face and the shadows under his eyes deepen as day after day the phone didn’t ring and the diary glowed with pristine unmarked pages. There was very little to laugh about.

As all slowed to a halt, I speeded up in my daily chores, became desperate about getting paid writing gigs, applied for jobs I didn’t want. Round and round I went trying to cut costs, save money and think of ways in which I would help bring home some bacon. In the middle of all this chaos and deathly silence, we somehow reorganised priorities, never gave up and got by. And now as we seem to be over the worst (thank you Irish Times for saying this week that our country is coming out of recession) I am left floundering about wondering who or what am I?

This crisis of confidence was brought sharply into focus this week. We went out ‘en famille’ for a pizza to celebrate the younger two’s great end of year school reports. Over dinner it transpired that Carla (eldest – 23 just) got not one but two emails of commendation to her employer this week. And the photographer also got a great testimonial from a client. I beamed with pride at my family gathered around me and tried not to hear the little voice in my head that said “what is it you do again? How is it you add value to this family”. It was a sobering moment.

I have since given it all some thought and I now realise that the slow, painful death of the Celtic Tiger has made me look at who exactly I am and wonder if I am doing the right thing or am I taking the easy option by being at home with my children. I walked away from my career and a job I loved 9 years ago because I passionately felt that I did not want to miss my children’s childhood. I also wanted to have time to pursue my own hobbies – such as writing and reiki. So now as we begin to negotiate calmer economic waters, I am glad we made the choices we did. I am grateful to the photographer for his tenacity and hard work which has kept our particular boat upright through the storm. But most of all I am very proud of my children…. And am grateful for the reminder that that was exactly why I decided to retire from the corporate world those 9 years ago. Who am I? I am a mother, a writer, a Reiki Master and a worrier. I am happy with the first three and am still working on the fourth.

Picture by the Photographer (http://www.sherwood.ie/ – not out of the woods yet….need a great photographer give him a shout) of the three reasons I retired and am ‘just’ a mom!