1 October 2010
What kind of Ireland do we want?
BY DÓNAL ÓG CUSACK
At the 1st An Phoblacht Autumn School
FIRSTLY, Id like to thank those who invited me here today. I’m honoured to be asked to share my thoughts and views with you.
Over the years I have been used to many challenges, principally those posed by my chosen sport of hurling. I believe I have been privileged to be part of something very special with the Cork hurling team.
I would like to think that I am not an egotistical being but I know that I am not falsely modest also, during years, I have stood up for what I believe, even if it meant challenging the status quo – I believed in proper respect and treatment for GAA players, in the development of a proper welfare system for players through the Gaelic Players Association and indeed in the cause of my own sexuality.
Throughout those years there was a great deal of turbulence and pressure but I was always sustained not just by the critical support of good people around me but also by the idea that principle was everything, that acting for what you believed in was right, and was always the correct course to steer.
Today, however, I am challenged and humbled by the invitation to discuss the future of our country.
Before we can assess where we’d hope to go as a nation, we need to understand clearly where we’ve been.
Understanding the mistakes of the past is not easy and while we are all coming to terms with the painful reality of a frugal future, we have to make sure that we study closely how we ended up where we are.
If we do not learn the lessons of history . . .
This idea of ‘easy’ is something which I have thought a lot about recently. It’s something I would have despised as a sportsman but one of the major problems for this country during the Celtic Tiger years, as I see it, was the sense that, myself included, success could come easily through money.
Investing in property was an ‘easy’ way to make money. Trading in shares was an ‘easy’ way to make money, handing over your pension for a bit of gambling was an easy way to make money.
‘Easy’ was a state of mind, one that blurred reality and allowed our political masters to take their eye off the ball. Economic boom became a catastrophic property bubble.
‘Easy’ meant light touch regulation. ‘Easy’ allowed banks and builders to profiteer; in fact, it actually facilitated the process.
‘Easy’ distorted our sense of history, of nation. I never begrudged a man making money in my life, nor a man prepared to take a risk, and have myself encouraged both, but somehow, somewhere we lost sight of what making money meant and the responsibilities that came with it. We became inured to the potential pitfalls.
It would be ridiculous to think that nothing came of the boom. There were benefits to large sections of Irish society. Funding for sports infrastructure, for example, received a huge boost during this period. I’m happy to be able to drive to Dublin in 2 hours and 15 minutes, or use a functioning, comfortable rail service. Irish people benefitted from benchmarking and while those benefits for some will be wiped out by our collapse, this is not the case across the board.
Tolerance in Irish society has improved; we have begun to tackle, in a meaningful way, some of the darkest secrets of our State’s past. We have relative peace on our island and we have meaningful nationalist representation in the corridors of power in Belfast.
But as courage, bravery and intelligence helped end decades of conflict in the six counties, south of the border we were sleep walking towards a precipice.
While the idea that we were flying was accepted – the reality is that we were pedalling a three-card trick. And now that it is exposed, no positive spin or economic babble can deflect from the crisis we have been landed in.
We are at a crossroads.
And I say we NOT because I was busily trying to develop apartment blocks or stockpiling shares in Anglo Irish. But rather because I believe that we have to examine ourselves closely now before we attempt to embrace a new and challenging future.
Maybe it is impossible for citizens to rise above the moral level of the society in which they inhabit. As James Connolly put it “a river can’t rise above its source.”
But we must try. And accepting that one way or another, we were all part of the Celtic Tiger – even those marginalised people who never enjoyed its dubious benefits – is critical in attempting to tackle our problems.
Now, all acutely aware of what has happened to Ireland, we have an opportunity, a real opportunity, to decide where we want to go as a people.
Accepting and understanding the complexities of our past is not to justify to the crass policy of bailing out banks, or to protect the system that has so jeopardised the future for generations of Irish people.
Rather the potential exists that it will allow us to purge ourselves, to bring clarity to the debate about the kind of country we want, to learn the lessons of history. It will also empower the citizens of this country.
We will, once again, become a people who question, who challenge, who demand.
Let me digress . . . . When GAA players joined forces over 10 years ago to demand change, we, ironically, were accused of being greedy. Many of the loudest critics of the GPA were people who were up to their eyes in the prevailing culture of the Tiger Years. Here were players demanding basic welfare treatment to help sustain their commitment to an amateur sport being run professionally and yet they were being portrayed as greedy? Needless to say many of the critics were being paid for their opinion.
However, we challenged the status quo and thankfully it has led to formal recognition, stability and a working relationship with the GAA that will help support the future welfare of players and indeed of Gaelic games in this country, particularly during these difficult times.
If you believe, you must challenge . . .
If we do not dare to challenge the orthodoxy that has bankrupted our country, I don’t believe we will as Connolly said, “rise above the source”.
I do not know where we are going to end up or how we are going to get there. But I believe and I hope that the Irish people will use the current climate of fear, restraint, suffering, emigration and uncertainty to seize the moment and help reclaim a real and meaningful stake in their own future.
We know now that we cannot let the prevailing political culture allow the past to be ignored. It is the key to unlocking a better future.
Nor can we allow the people who have created the mess in the first place continue to dictate the escape route.
But equally, we must all engage in a real debate about what we want – what economic system we want, what kind of health service, what kind of public schools, what kind of social welfare, what kind of public sports facilities, what kind of politicians, what kind of planning, what kind of civil servants, what kind of church.
What kind of society.
If we go back to the days when keeping up with the Jones’ was Ireland’s guiding doctrine, we will surely end up back at the same place. This cannot be countenanced. Less simply has to be more.
Neither can we simply change the Government, prosecute a few bankers and hope that we’ll have a different Ireland. This country’s golden circle has always been underpinned by our pervasive gombeen culture, one with which we are all sadly familiar.
What I would love to see is a sense of citizenship return to Ireland; that Irish people would cease to be mere economic pawns. That the values of community, of pride in locality, of culture, civic mindedness, were not just the weasel words of someone on the make, but the genuine aspirations of a people.
Throughout the past 20 years, the GAA has reminded us of how important and beneficial those values can be but they cannot just be the preserve of the GAA – they must underpin Irish society.
As a practitioner of Gaelic games, as a hurler, I believe passionately, that I am part of a body of men and women carrying an important cultural torch for this country.
We are not alone. We have a deep and rich culture of sport, language, art, music, literature which must be protected and nurtured – not merely patronised by politicians.
Molaim gluaiseacht na teanga agus muitntir na Gaeltachta. Tuigim na dúshláin fé leith atá róimh, agus sinn i lár na géarchéime. Creidm go bhfuil nasc tábhachtach, réalaíoch idir féin-mhuinín na ndaoine, idir ár gcultúr agus ár dteanga. Creidim chomh maith, go bhfuil sé riachtanach go mbeadh cosaint agus cothú don teanga, don ngluaiseacht agus do mhuintir na Gaeltachta amach anseo. Beatha teanga í a labhairt, agus beatha na tíre seo, an Ghaelige a labhairt
Despite the doom and gloom, we have an educated ambitious young population that needs leadership and guidance. The confidence of that generation has now been tested. I say that with surety as to be honest I am one of those whose confidence has been tested. I have worked for a multinational company for the vast majority of my adult life, over a decade now, a company of almost 800 people in Cork, a company which I believe is ethical in its behaviours and fully understands it social responsibility in being a good contibutor to this state, a company which is fighting hard to stay alive in an extremely competitive global market place. Through this work I travel regularaly to foreign fields and interact on a daily basis with our foreign counterparts. Though always proud of the country I represent I am also conscious of what is happening in my country, of how we are in many ways now viewed negatively internationally and how my generation is being scarred by the happenings in our home land. I now whether rightly or wrongly carry those scars, I feel them when I negotiate, when I present when I debate. However, I do believe the opportunity is there for us to learn from this crisis and emerge a stronger and wiser generation, one who because of living and surviving through this crisis will be better equipped to face the challenges of the future. For this to happen, this generation need the opportunity to communicate with the people who now shape that future.
Friends, we cannot underestimate our problems or the extent of the challenge ahead,
We cannot allow the spirit to be drained from our people – and this, I believe, is the biggest threat posed by the crisis in this country. And this is not simply a recession, the current problems are ripping the heart out of the nation.
I come from Cloyne in East Cork, a place whose existence is shaped by our national game of hurling. Over the past 15 years we had a highly disproportionate amount of people working for themselves. Men who were hard working, honest innovative and fun loving who loved their game of hurling. Now, in many cases, they have become bewildered people, a shadow of their former selves. I do not exaggerate this, I know because in many cases they are my friends, friends who have seen their world turned upside down, income collapsed, cars repossessed, sherrifs at the door and in worst cases forced to sell the very homes they had built with their own hands. I met one of those friends walking out of Croke Park last Sunday, and again saw the daze in his eyes where once a glint inhabited. He had his young son with him and my thoughts turned to thinking about what effect this had to be having on him. Think . . . think about the impact, the negative impact that is having on their children. Think about the damage that has been inflicted on this nation. I see it in my own place and, I’ve little doubt, you’ve all seen this in your areas and also the potential for this country to disappear into its shell for the foreseeable future.
This is not like previous recessions...... In times past we protected ourselves, our spirits were high, our values were clear. But now, because we believed the myth of the alchemist, we do not know where we stand, we don’t know what’s next.
Commerce is the lifeblood of a functioning, modern society. But responsibility and accountability are essential if commerce is to serve the citizen as opposed to the opposite. I listen this week to commentators stating of ‘markets’ needing clarity and simplicity – surely the people who gamble on the future of our nation, are duty bound to understand the complexities and the implications in everything they do.
We may indeed inhabit a global market, we are no longer complete masters of our own destiny. But neither should be we prostitute ourselves to outside forces concerned only with profit. We must regain control, we must have a hand in our own future.
This is a war, on two fronts. A war against the systematic destruction of our society, of our economy and our spirit. But it is also a war against ourselves and the bravest step we can take is to admit our part in what went wrong and stand up in whatever way we can.
And this fight I speak of is not about tilting at windmills – castigating for the sake of castigating and shooting for the sake of shooting. We must be constructive, intelligent, fair and, above all, responsible.
We need a government that listens to its people and is guided by a sense of duty, a sense of care and a sense of patriotism.
In six years we will commemorate the centenary of The Rising, a seminal moment in our history.
Fifty years ago, an Irish songwriter named Liam Weldon challenged the middle class complacency of the Irish Free State preparing to commemorate 1916 in the face of what he saw as the failures represented by emigration and poverty. The song, Dark Horse on the Wind, unfortunately, now resonates again today as we move towards the 100th anniversary:
In the ashes of our broken dreams
We've lost sight of our goal
Oh rise, rise, rise, Dark Horse on the Wind.
Oh those who died for liberty
Have heard the eagle scream
All the ones who died for liberty
Have died but for a dream
Oh rise, rise, rise, Dark horse on the wind
For in no nation on the earth
More broken hearts you'll find.
The flames leaped high, reached to the sky
And seared a nation’s soul
In the ashes of our broken dreams
We’ve lost sight of our goal
O rise, rise, rise, Dark horse on the wind
And help our hearts seek Róisín
Our soul again to find
Now charlatans wear dead men’s shoes
and rattle dead men’s bones
‘Ere the dust has settled on their tombs
They’ve sold the very stones
O rise, rise, rise, Dark horse on the wind
For in no nation on the earth
More Pharisees you’ll find
In grief and hate our motherland
Her dragon’s teeth has sown
Now the warriors spring from the earth
To maim and kill their own
O rise, rise, rise, Dark horse on the wind
For the one-eyed Balor still reigns king
In our nation of the blind.
Today, this country lies in the ashes of many broken dreams and we await the final prognosis.
When Connolly remarked in a 1915 that “Recent events in Ireland have gone far to show that the old lines of political demarcation no longer serve to express any reality in the lives of the people”, he could have been talking about September 2010.
The old doctrines may have been consigned to history over the past century but I believe that the ideals of social justice, so prevalent in the thoughts and ambitions of our founding fathers, can help us shape a better society.
Now is the time.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.