The Good Old Bad Old Days

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Irish-cottage-scenedan

From top: Donegal cottage, 1930s: Dan Boyle

Austerity now.

Austerity Then.

The similarities are not just superficial.

Dan Boyle writes:

It was The Mother’s birthday last weekend. She was born in the 1930s. It occurred to me that the time span between now and then, when applied to before her birth, would have brought her life towards the end of The Great Famine in Ireland and before the start of the American Civil War. So much history enveloped into two life spans.

Thinking of when she was born brought to mind that distinctly harrowing decade of the 1930s. A lot of parallels seem to exist between then and now. It was a decade entered into on the back of a collapse in the global economy, made worse in Ireland. Then we were engaged in an economic war with the British. Now we are economically in thrall to the whims of the Germans. We seem to have lived with austerity more often than we’re prepared to admit.

Then the coming force in Irish politics was a group of people, who several years previously, believed their political goals were best delivered through the barrel of a gun. The leader of that group, patrician like, sought to distance himself from such grubby activity. Thankfully shameless re-positioning like this isn’t practiced any longer in Irish politics.

Then, throughout the rest of Europe, the complacent centre was failing to hold. The disenfranchised and the dispossessed were being attracted to extremes both of the right and the left. Now rejecting old certainties is the reaction of the day.

The comparisons between then and now are largely superficial though. Take the example of poverty. Then poverty was absolute, now it tends to be relative. Then social needs were unmet because of a lack of resources. Now they exist because resources are misallocated.

My mother’s childhood was cloaked in a middle class comfort. Her dad, my grandfather, worked with the newly formed Electricity Supply Board. Apparently it was possible then to establish a state owned company, responsible for the fair and efficient distribution of a public utility.

My own Dad was at the same time living in another Ireland. On another island, Arranmore off the coast of Donegal, in a family home without electricity or plumbing.

How we remember history, especially our personal histories, determines how we make sense of the present. It’s the scale we often get wrong. The relationship between past, present and future isn’t necessarily linear, but it has tended to be progressive.

Are there still flaws? Many, with continuing injustices in place. Are we dealing with these with a sufficient sense of urgency? No, but the amount of what is wrong has been reduced.

In Ireland we have evolved as a society and have progressed as an economy. There have been steps back that have been followed by leaps forward. There have been collective qualities we have lost that we should seek to regain. Technology has helped make life easier but has also made life more complicated.

The future will always be uncertain. We shouldn’t burden it with prophecies of doom. We have no reason to believe that the journey from now to the future will be any less successful than the journey we have made from the past to now.

We should hope though that we don’t choose the route chosen by the rest of the World to escape the torpor of the 1930s. World War Three would be the last in that series.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party Senator.

Top pic via irish Archaeology

59 thoughts on “The Good Old Bad Old Days

  1. Paolo

    Sorry Dan, I’m a Green Party supporter but this is a load of baloney. Comparing our comfortable lives now with anything beyond even 30 years ago is ridiculous.

    1. classter

      Ireland of the 1930s was a conservative society, a simple economy, with few willing lenders (to allow for a Keynesian policy). We were locked into a silly trade war (vindictive on the UK side) with our main trading partner and were protectionist in outlook.

      Ireland of 2015 is much more liberal (even if we are still small c conservative), has one of the world’s most sophisticated economies and have donea good job (partially due to ‘austerity’) of convincing lenders of our reliability. We are now one of the worlds most open & globalised economies and are largely dependent on FDI – on being a ‘great place to do business’ in.

      Whatever the issues we have today, what really are the parallels between now & then?

      What does ‘austerity’ even mean in this context? Not free-spending? Not having money?

  2. Lilly

    I see the hand of shame has been severed. My goodness but aren’t people getting litigious.

  3. Mani

    Ah bollix, this is a regular thing now. He’ll never finish that difficult second album.

    1. Mé Féin

      +1
      Green gobshite who looks like a Fianna Failure gets to spout guff on Broadsheet? The hypocrisy of those people makes me sick.

      1. Dan Boyle

        I’d suggest a visit to the doctor. That’s hardly a rational way to analyse anything…

          1. Dan Boyle

            I was thinking of a psychotherapist. Some Freudian. It’s the only way of dealing with hang ups.

  4. TG

    I’m so glad Dan shared this piece of wisdom for us: “The future will always be uncertain.”

  5. edalicious

    “Thankfully shameless re-positioning like this isn’t practiced any longer in Irish politics.”

    Sly dig at the Shinners?

  6. Drogg

    I see that Dan seems to forget that the Greens are part of the reason we now live under Austerity and i don’t see why he points that the time between his mothers birth and now if put the other way round brings us back to some really crappy parts of humanity, maybe if he looked at history from his mothers births to now yes he will see horrors but he will also see some of the speediest advances the human race has ever taken.

    1. ahjayzis

      I’ve no time for the Greens, but that’s just not true. Bismarck himself couldn’t have saved Ireland had he come to power in 2007 – the seeds had been sewn in the previous ten years.

      You can blame them for their attempts to deal with it / propping up FF’s attempts to deal with it, but the damage had been done by ’07.

      1. Drogg

        They where empty vessels in government they did nothing useful with their time and helped put through the rubbish banking bailout that really screwed us over but you go a head and think they did nothing wrong.

        1. classter

          That’s true Drogg but ahjayzis is still correct that the damage had been done.

          You might argue about how we might have closed the stable door with the minimum pain but the horse had well-bolted.

    2. Nigel

      Yes, that tiny sliver of time when the Green shared power as junior partners with FF in an effort to enact at least some eco-friendly sustainable policies before the crash everyone knew was coming means they share a disproportionately huge share of the blame for both the conditions that created it and the austerity response.

      1. Drogg

        All their ECO friendly policies did was put more pressure on the lowest payed they did little to curb the real polluters in this country, they also supported anti vaccination legislation and the bank bailout. So look at them all you want with rose tinted glasses but the green party is a nothing more then a whipping boy for big parties and they take it all with such pride so they can push through crappy legislation.

  7. Spaghetti Hoop

    Blimey. 1930s socio-economic Ireland as whitewashed here as that there cottage wall!

  8. scottser

    C- Please pay more attention to the question. Make sure to reference your quotes. the use of footnotes is recommended.

  9. bisted

    …is this part of the McKenna judgement? If we have Mercille giving an objective analysis based on rigourous empirical research we have to suffer these ramblings as an antidote.

    1. bisted

      Dear Admin…if you feel my comment is inappropriate, please just delete it rather than edit.

      ps…what is wrong with the word ‘buffoon’?

    2. maisnon

      Mercille ..objective ..rigourous empirical research? Biggest laugh of the day. You must be sniffing sth illegal, busted bisted

      1. bisted

        …thanks maisnon…you remind me of an autocorrect on my original comment which changed ‘an idiot’ into ‘antidote’.

    3. classter

      Perhaps your comment has been modded to a point where it makes little sense but however you feel about Mercille, he is certainly not ‘giving an objective analysis based on rigourous empirical research’.

      Anyway, Dan & Merceille would (roughly) be on a similar location on the political spectrum.

      1. bisted

        …I think a non-Irish person but one who understands the Irish ‘media’ is the epitome of objective..

        1. classter

          I felt the same way when Broadsheet started publishing his analysis of the Irish media.

          It became clear in his response to criticism that his analysis (while still essentially correct, I suspect) did not deserve terms like rigorous or objective.

          His recent posts are similar. I sometimes/often agree with his conclusion but the argument/research/objectivity underpinning it all seems extremely weak.

          1. bisted

            …Dr Julien Mercille PhD MA BA…isn’t he lucky you weren’t on the interview panel when he got the job in UCD…you’d have seen through him for the shallow, lazy imposter he is.

  10. ollie

    The underlying point of Dan’s article (which will be folllowed up with more nonsense, I’m sure) is to tell us not to lean towards independents in the next election.

  11. Dan Boyle

    It’s an opinion piece. Even with
    footnotes it would still be an opinion piece. People will read what they want into anything. For me the key sentence for me is ‘The comparisons between then and now are largely superficial though.’

  12. Stewart Curry

    “We shouldn’t burden it with prophecies of doom.”
    “World War Three would be the last in that series.”

  13. Mr. T.

    “My mother’s childhood was cloaked in a middle class comfort”

    Just in case we thought he might be from a 100% working class family. God forbid.

    Such an Irish thing to make sure everyone knows you’re at least second generation ‘comfortable’.

    1. Dan Boyle

      Because I had choice in the matter? If it matters neither side of the family was ever ‘wealthy’ at least in money terms…

    2. Spaghetti Hoop

      If Dan’s ma had shoes on her feet, an education beyond the age of 9 and wasn’t compelled to emigrate when she came of age in the 1950s, then she was doing pretty well.

        1. Spaghetti Hoop

          Because the narrative has no substance, Dan. Not in 2015.
          Your musings are all very well and sweetly nostalgic but they’re not accurate in terms of Ireland’s broader socio-economic and political history. No disrespect to your mother, btw.

          We could all wist fondly on our parents’ era… and how they lifted turnips for the dinner and read Ireland’s Own by candlelight. But that’s a single-malt-by-the -fire activity. Politicians are not paid to look back.

          Given that you are a Green politician, your party could possibly bounce back in the electoral polls if ye mused and licked wounds less and moreso energised yourselves into making some concrete proposals on urban planning, transport planning, agricultural sustainability, election manifestos for 2016 and long-term goals for the country – with a nod to global targets for pollution control yes – but also to harness the grass roots sustainable-living culture that has blossomed around the place SINCE your catapult out of government.

          1. Joe the Lion

            That’s all well and good except for the fact that the Green Party are the stuff of truculent upper middle class lickspittles and Uncle Toms

          2. Spaghetti Hoop

            Ha. What’s an ‘Uncle Tom’??
            I was a full-on Green Party voter & campaigner until Gogsy called to my door one day and folded under questioning.

          3. Joe the Lion

            The phrase “Uncle Tom” has also become an epithet for a person who is slavish and excessively subservient to perceived authority figures, particularly a black person who behaves in a subservient manner to white people; or any person perceived to be complicit in the oppression of their own group.

          4. Dan Boyle

            Hedging your bets their Mr. (Ms.) Hoops. Are vote was never great but it has been consistent. At least we’ve been honest with people. The least we can do is try. If it isn’t accepted it won’t be for the lack of that.

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