This article appears in the July issue of Irish American News. It was written just before Leo Varadkar surprised no one at all by indicating that he was to be a case of “Out with the old, in with exactly the same…”
It’s a bit messy-looking, to be honest. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t already been moved on, just in case they frighten the tourists.
It’s just off Galway’s central Eyre Square; so it should be disconcerting to see the homeless settling themselves down for the night, spreading out their few belongings and huddling up in the doorways. It could give people the wrong idea; it could make a lie of the oft-repeated boasts about the country being in ‘recovery’.
‘Let’s keep the recovery going’, crowed Enda Kenny and his motley sideshow in an endless loop last year. Until it dawned on even those as disconnected from reality as our lot, that perhaps it was a more than usually ignorant soundbite.
I’m talking to an eleven-year old boy and his gran – or ‘Nan’, as he calls her. She tells me that for some reason he has suddenly become concerned about the people down here that he sees waiting listlessly for evening time. So, since they only live ten minutes’ walk from the Square, up in Bohermore, they thought it would be an idea to make up some soup and sandwiches, hand them out.
It’s a lovely thought to come from a kid. Empathy is in short supply these days and I hope that it doesn’t get knocked out of him as he enters the pragmatic grown-up world that doesn’t have much time for such things.
Come to that, neither do some of the many keyboard warriors, the new breed which haunts the internet. Later on, I’m looking at some of the comments concerning those who are similarly handing out food up in Dublin. According to the warriors, such people as that young man and his Nan are part of the problem: after all, if you’re handing out food to these wasters, it’s not giving them much initiative, is it?
Great, that; very compassionate. Do me a favour: take a look at that handsome guy at the top of this Irish American News column, using his real name. That’s something you won’t see too often on those web accounts. It’s usually some witless pseudonym and a daft image; much easier to be brave when you’re anonymous. A lot of these people like being homeless, according to these characters; it’s ‘a lifestyle choice’. Some lifestyle; some choice.
And yet why should they be any different, when those in power think much the same? When a politician like Joan Burton actually imagines that it is a nice photo opportunity to be seen opening a food bank? Jesus wept. A food bank – in 21st century Ireland. And our chancers think it’s something to brag about.
It just crept up on us, just gradually became something that is acceptable. Like the thousands who are being evicted from their homes by the banks. And let’s be honest, we wouldn’t even hear the little we do without guys like Ken Smollen of the Irish Democratic Party, who seems to work tirelessly to keep this problem (‘problem’ – some word!) highlighted.
Meanwhile, the lady with the compassionate grandkid is finishing handing out her sandwiches, ravenously tucked into. I ask her what she thinks of the tens of millions in foreign aid that we’ve been sending out of the country since even before Geldof and Bono attained sainthood. And that’s a pretty contemptuous snort I get in reply. She’s got nothing against helping, but believes that charity begins at home. She thinks it’s a bit rich to be agreeing to the enormous amounts that our government sends abroad when those same ministers will literally step over the homeless Irish sleeping close to the Dail.
I think she’s right.
Meanwhile, get a load of this.
“From high in the hilltops, it looked like a roulette table of lines and numbers, manipulating its people like plastic chips, units of an economy controlled by the spin of the big wheel in the centre.
“The bankermen, the landowners, the shareholders, the politicians: all croupiers, all in cahoots.
“These days, the criminals were not outlaws in the hills, but the suits in their offices…”
I’ve been reading a terrific graphic novel from Nick Hayes called Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads. It’s an enthralling look at the life of the Depression-era American songster and contains illustrations that show the beauty as well as the harshness of the land that he travelled through. You wouldn’t expect this subject matter to have much in common with modern-day, ‘affluent’ Ireland; and yet, as with a recent revisit to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the similarities just jump out and start playing the fiddle on your shoulder. And there’s as little accountability today as there was then.
After years of waiting to see justice served on Anglo-Irish Bank’s head gouger Sean FitzPatrick, off he went this month, totally acquitted after a suspiciously shambolic trial. He had his daughter hanging out of him and why not? His family still live in the lap of luxury because of him. It’s only the peasants who have lost everything: their homes, sometimes their lives. But they don’t matter. He’s not affected in the slightest. But posing with his daughter…exposing her to this…it tells me even more than I want to know about him.
And the thing is that no one is surprised. Not one single person in Ireland expected to see anything even approaching justice being done, not when they are all – politician and banker alike — interconnected and swimming in the same fetid, stagnant water. In lines that I’ve quoted here before, Guthrie’s spiritual successor Bob Dylan once wrote: ‘All the criminals in their coats and their ties/Are free to sip martinis and watch the sun rise’.
Of course, none of this shower can relate to the ordinary person. Enda Kenny, he’s gone into the sunset with his usual loathsome smirk and a lump sum of €378,000 on top of his various pensions.
And his successor, Loveable Leo Varadkar, who seems to have conned people into thinking that he’s going to be any different…well, his first piece of counsel is to inform on anyone that you suspect might be cleaning a couple of windows on the side. Grass the bastards up is Laughing Leo’s advice. They might be taking home an undeclared €20.
What’s that? You’re asking about Sean FitzPatrick again? But he’s one of ours! Can’t touch him.
And Allied Irish Banks won’t have to pay any tax on its profits for the next 30 years? All legal, suckers! You don’t expect us to treat them the way we treat you, I hope!
Woody Guthrie sang:
‘As through this world I’ve wandered/I’ve seen lots of funny men/ Some will rob you with a shotgun/And some with a fountain pen.’
That eleven-year-old boy again: seeing those people sleeping on the streets will stay with him; perhaps one day he may even be able to do something about it. But it will be without the help of any of our goons. They are in it for the power and the money. Helping their constituents isn’t even on the totem pole.
And Woody? Oh man, the wealth of material you would have found in Ireland, 2017.