Why aren’t we rioting?

As news of yet more economic and financial disasters makes its way to us, one of the questions that I keep on hearing asked is this one: Why isn’t Ireland rioting? Seriously, why aren’t we?

It’s a good question. It’s not a question with any easy answers. It’s not a question that I’m going to be able to answer in full, although I have a couple of ideas. First, though, I’d like to talk about what it definitely is not.

It’s not that we’re not angry. It’s not that we’re not upset. It’s not that we’re apathetic. I’m not even sure that it’s because we’re aware of the risks and have made a decision to solve our problems democratically, as Amanda wrote recently.

I think that it’s more to do with hope, with disappointment, and with our ingrained responses to each. It’s about whose hopes have been dashed, and whose hopes were never there to begin with.

Put simply: those of us who already could hope for something better can- and do- leave. Oh, how we leave. We leave because we can afford to, we leave because we have skills we want to put to good use somewhere that’ll have us. But we also leave because we grew up with leaving. We grew up with glamorous, exciting uncles, aunts and cousins visiting home for Christmas, for weddings and funerals and christenings. Telling us stories of faraway places, and, of course, bringing the best presents. Your dad is the boss? Peh, I had a cousin in America who was a private investigator and an uncle who worked in space. That kind of currency is gold when you’re a kid.

And everyone around us had the same, did the same. I don’t know if anyone I grew up with didn’t have family overseas. I doubt it.

So those of us with hope? Those of us who want something better for ourselves and our loved ones? Those of us with some education, or some money set aside, or even someone we can borrow something from? We know what to do when things are no longer hopeful here. We always knew what to do.

And that’s why we don’t riot. You see, to riot you have to have hope. You have to see that things are bad, you have to feel like you damn well deserve better and be willing to risk something. Either that, or you have to be completely hopeless, and feel like there’s no other possible escape.

Put bluntly, you either have to have a lot to lose and no other way out, or nothing to lose and no other way out.

But us, here in Ireland? We’ve always had another way out.

Why aren’t we rioting?

Quit taking my stuff! On bookshops and the recession.

Reading the Anti-Room a little while ago while brewing a nice big pot of Saturday morning chai and munching on some overly-wholesome muesli, I came across a post lamenting the impending closure of two of Dublin’s favourite bookshops, namely the Dawson Street and Jervis Street branches of Waterstones.

Image of the inside of a bookstore, with shelves along the wall and also tables covered in books.
The spaces to the side of those tables? The perfect size for a curled-up eight-year-old bookworm.

My first reaction to this was relief. You see, the Waterstones that I grew up in was their Cork branch. Waterstones in Cork was where I used to go with my parents on weekends, where I was left entirely undisturbed to curl up on the perfectly-sized empty shelf under their tables to read to my heart’s content. It was where I first made the big step out of the kids’ section into the wonderful, scary world of grown-up books.

But you know what? The fact that the bookshop I grew up with is safe for the moment doesn’t matter a damn. What matters is that this recession is stealing away so many of the people and places that we grew up with. It started oh-so-slowly and around the edges. Job losses in industry, a slowdown in immigration. So gradually that many of us didn’t notice in our day-to-day lives. We worried a bit more for our jobs. We were less inclined to take risks. But we got on with things more or less as we had done.

But now? Now a thousand people are leaving my country every week. And we can no longer afford to keep some of our most lovely bookshops. And I can feel this insidious, gnawing sense of loss and fear getting closer to my heart and to my life. This helpless outrage every time I’m told that it was me and those like me who caused this, when we were never the ones living it up and squandering everything we had when we could. This anxious worry that this place that I love is being steadily gutted, piece by inevitable piece, while we stand by. While we have our going-away parties and queue for our flights.

And yes, I know it’s just a couple of bookshops. But closing a couple of bookshops means that we live in a city that can no longer afford those bookshops. A city that looks a lot like it used to, but where something is missing. And I can’t help but wonder when we’ll find out exactly how much is missing, and how much of it we’ll be able to regain.

Quit taking my stuff! On bookshops and the recession.

Immigration, and emigration, and an apology

I have an apology to make. Not because of anything I did on purpose, and not because of anything that I did with any malice or ill-will whatsoever. But I have been incredibly ignorant, and I want to apologise. Unreservedly.

It’s about immigration. And emigration. A bit of background for those of you who aren’t really connected to Ireland: since the mid ’90s, Ireland has become a place people immigrate into. It never really was before- in the ’80s, it was a place people emigrated from in their tens of thousands. But for my adult life up until the last year or two, Ireland has been a destination country. And I saw that as absolutely a good thing.

And you know something? It was. For Ireland. We benefited from all the awesomeness and diversity of many thousands of people from all over the world. Our society got the shaking up that it so desperately needed, we were forced to look outside our parochial little world and see things from other points of view. We got to share in the fruits of all the different expertise, experience and perspectives of the people who made their lives here. And, yes, we Irish had the privilege of getting other people to do the jobs we didn’t want to.

It’s a pity that we were so damned ungrateful, and my response until now has always been a rejection of that. If someone wanted to give out about Those Pesky Immigrants Stealin’ Our Jobs And Our Women? They got a hell of an earful, starting with No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish and ending up with Precisely What They Have In Fact Done For Us, Thank You Very Much.

But I left something out, and for that I want to apologise.

You see, recently I’ve realised something. In my eagerness to talk about how immigration is Bloody Brilliant for Ireland, I may have left some people out, and forgotten a major point. I forgot about the people coming here. And I forgot about the people they had to leave behind.

You see, I’ve always loved to travel. I’ve always loved to live in different places, visit places, spend a few months here and a year there, immerse myself in different places and meet new people. All that good stuff. It didn’t hit me until this past week that there is a difference- a huge one- between travelling because you want to, and leaving because you have no choice. It didn’t hit me until I realised that it already has hit us.

Poster for 7upfree's Bring Them Back for the Craic competition, offering a flight home to Ireland for seven people from anywhere in the world, for St Patrick's Day
Two things happened in the past week. I was taking a bus to the train station last week, and noticed the poster to the right. Bring them Back for the Craic. Seven flights home for seven friends from anywhere in the world.

Yes. We are a nation where all of a sudden, without noticing, it is expected that a very many of us will be able to think of seven people that they’d like to fly home for Paddy’s Day. I don’t remember that happening- but when I think about it, it’s so very clear that it already has.

The second thing happened last weekend. See, me and the lovely Amanda Harper have a thing. Every few months (or whenever we’re all in the same city and free, which can make it a little less often than that), me and her and a couple of other friends have a marvelous tradition of Entirely Nerdy Girls’ Night Out. And this week, one of our number is emigrating. So last Saturday we all headed over to one of their houses for an evening of food and delightful nerdery.

It didn’t hit me until I was there. I’ve been to loads of going-away parties in my time. But normally it was because someone fancied heading away for a year or two. Or they met someone positively delightful in a faraway land. Or they wanted to study overseas. Or they had always wanted to live elsewhere. Or they wanted to travel and see the world. Or their absolute dream job was elsewhere. Or even that they needed to move away to somewhere where their marriage would be recognised.

There’s a common thread with all of those situations. Even though there is always pain in loss, and we will always miss each other, there is joy there. The person leaving has found something that is awesome enough to be worth leaving us all for. They’re following their heart, or their dreams, or their itchy feet and insatiable curiosity. We miss each other, but it’s a gorgeous and rich thing that they’re going for.

This time didn’t feel so good. And this time is, I am growing ever more certain, the first of many. Many people who would have loved to stay, who would have loved to follow their dreams and curiosities and loves right here. People who have to leave not because of being pulled by the promise of fulfilment, but being pushed by the lack of any goddamned way to make a life here. Because it’s getting bad enough that leaving the people and places that you love, never knowing when or if you’ll be able to come back, isn’t as bad as staying.

So I would like to apologise. I want to apologise for saying that immigration is unreservedly a good thing. I want to apologise to everyone who has had to leave the people and places they love, never knowing when or whether they will see them again. I’m sorry to all of you who wished you could stay. I’m sorry to all of you who miss your family, miss your friends, miss your loved ones. I’m sorry to all of you who miss your home town. I’m sorry that I would ever belittle the sacrifices that you’ve made and continue to make. And I hope that you find a home, wherever it may be.

Oh, also: Amanda Harper posted about this too! Check her out!

Immigration, and emigration, and an apology