The cynical side of my brain is convinced that Ireland is a country based on waves – be they of COVID, careerist coalition partners, or emigration. It sometimes feels as if we’re stuck having the same few conversations every five months or years, running into depressingly similar problems without any real conclusion. I guess this habit has been accelerated with this never-ending pandemic – what was initially experienced as tragedy quickly arrives back as farce the second it exits our memory.
There’s an undeniable sense of déjà vu in the media cycles during each surge – almost as if we’re watching the exact same b-roll of pubs, the exact same debates about generation gaps, the exact same lobbyists chatting pure shite without any repercussion. It sometimes feels as if we ritualistically psych ourselves up each season, angrily staring at empty restaurant tables or teens drinking cans. We then delude ourselves into thinking that COVID can be bartered with and promptly act all shocked when the virus refuses our brown envelope. Existing as a young person here can often resemble being endlessly bashed against the same wall – with those around us feigning a false sense of novelty.
our favourite mixed messages are being brought out of storage
In order to draw understanding from this current wave of the virus, we need to look at how rapidly the last one was forgotten. On the 27th of November NPHET presented our government with a choice – reopen hospitality or allow household visits. “We do not have the flexibility to enable resumption of hospitality in restaurants and bars if we are to enable an easing of the current prohibition on mixing between households while protecting the core objectives of protecting public health and those who are most vulnerable, and the ongoing provision of essential health and social care, education and child care services”. The group then claimed that “modelling suggests that the level of disease in January 2021 will present a real and substantial threat to the ongoing protection of public health and of the most vulnerable”.
This suggestion drew ire from the press and government, leading to a decision to go against the public health advice and reopen both. The press worked us into a frenzy, peddling lies about a “meaningful Christmas” and ignoring obvious warning signs. To quote hospitality lobbyist Adrian Cummins, “I think the CMO has a track record of now speaking out without getting government approval and I think the government needs to take control of this”. We drank our room temperature pints, cases exploded, and over 3,000 people died.
It’d be cliché to say no lessons were learned from this previous wave of the virus – talk of time limits in pubs are being bandied around, Sinn Féin are opportunistically supporting their reopening, and our favourite mixed messages are being brought out of storage. I must note that we’re in a better situation than the one we faced in November – most of the vulnerable are now vaccinated, schools are out on break, and the new threat is seemingly just young people clogging up hospitals. However, these positive developments are essentially just being squandered by our refusal to learn about this virus. We’re still operating under the false assumptions that children don’t pick up the virus, that washing your hands is more important than wearing a mask, and that viral pathogens respect minor policy manoeuvres. These failures are seen most blatantly once we look at our current attempt to reopen hospitality.
Under the legislation passed by the state, pubs and bars will resume service for those who have either received their jabs or recovered from the virus. Lobbyists managed to convince the state into allowing unvaccinated under eighteens to avail of hospitality services, with the language of “bubbles” being recycled to justify this move. In order to enter a restaurant one either needs an EU Digital COVID Certificate (a glorified PDF file provided by our overlords in Brussels) or a letter from their GP – quite clearly opening the door to counterfeiting. This scheme bases itself on three main lies – that unvaccinated children picking up the virus pose no real risk, that the vaccination programme would accelerate to cover young people working in these sectors, and that stringent measures will actually be put into action.
These lies have quite rapidly unravelled as we edge closer to reopening. According to epidemiologist Julian Tang, unvaccinated children could become “reservoirs” for the virus, allowing new variants to arise. The shock announcement of vaccinations for all those over eighteen has proven to be premature, with delays being announced to the HSE portal and pharmacies not having the necessary jabs to deal with this surge in demand. It’s also quite hard to imagine underpaid bar workers (who are mostly unvaccinated and at significant risk themselves) having the time required to scan each digital certificate, let alone determine which GP letters are legitimate. It feels as if we’re about to hit the same brick wall once again, something recent announcements mirror. The recent meltdown in the Netherlands implies the path we could head down, with a near vertical rise in cases following a choice to open up. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, the other part is compiling posts to ironically retweet throughout a possible future lockdown.
all the boys on the fás course, all the boys on the dole
Another wave that’s gotten me overthinking this week relates to youth unemployment, with the state preparing itself to screw over young working people in the years following this pandemic. Minister Heather Humphreys announced a new Work Placement Experience Program, a scheme under which young workers will be paid €3.43 an hour to do work under the guise of gaining work experience. This new program has mirrors of JobBridge, a glorified exploitation scheme which had an insanely low success rate and only served the interests of those in power. Instead of having to hire and pay workers, firms were essentially just provided with free labour from the state. This lead to entry level jobs being replaced with endless internships, wages being depressed, and youth unemployment figures being papered over. These conditions enabled ideas of Ireland being terminally inhospitable for those under the age of thirty, contributing in part to a wave of emigration that decimated the country.
For those paying attention to Irish politics, a loop of this cycle of exploitation was inevitable. If you don’t believe me, here’s a word for word prediction from the socialist left. According to a piece published in late May by Paul Murphy:
While JobBridge in its previous form may not return, there will likely be an intensification of the current schemes, with a wider net being cast to force people into them, alongside a raft of new penalties to punish those who refuse, and an accompanying public campaign to demonise the unemployed as feckless.
A repackaged JobBridge 2.0 will be on the agenda – it will likely rest on the same old arguments about needing to gain ‘work experience’ or ‘new skills’ with a mea cupla about having got rid of the worst abuses of the original scheme. But, at root, it will function on the same principle of unpaid work and undermining the concept of universal benefits and the welfare state.
It seems as if our generation are on the verge of facing the exact same issues of mass unemployment, emigration, and condescension that plagued the one that came before. Pathetic attempts to demonise the precariously employed are already emerging in embryonic form, as seen by a recent piece about a supposed PUP loophole. Students who were laid off during the pandemic were depicted as “lying in bed enjoying the PUP grant”, with the media pretending that working while in college (a thing most normal people have to do) was some lifehack akin to a secret McDonald’s menu. No attention was paid to the fact that young people make up a decent chunk of those laid off by the pandemic and those hit the hardest by it, something that really shouldn’t shock anyone. The ruling class in this country displays an active contempt towards young working class people, something seen most blatantly in columnist Brenda Power’s 2016 headline – “JobBridge unfair? Try telling that to the kids fighting Isis”!
whose coming home anyway?
One of the most depressing part of Ireland’s cyclical nature is seeing the perpetrators of previous injustices get rehabilitated. The political establishment of this country has hopped back on the bandwagon of resuscitating Labour, something seen most blatantly when we look at the Dublin Bay South by-election. State broadcaster RTÉ claimed an “inadvertent error” lead to them broadcasting a programme featuring candidate Ivana Bacik prior to the election. Quite ironically the candidate appeared on an episode of ‘National Treasures’, although cancer patients on the receiving end of medical card cuts probably wouldn’t view her as one.
The press quite rapidly tried to present the election as a “two horse race”, handwaving away Labour’s past with reheated rhetoric from the Liberal Democrats across the pond. Bacik then went on to clench the seat, leading to some extremely dumb waves of discourse. The real impacts of the austerity they implemented have been swept away in some circles, something that feels like a kick in the gut to those on the receiving end. There’s something oddly depressing in seeing those who talked of unemployed teens “permanently in front of a flat screen television” and protestors with “expensive phones and cameras” singing “Bacik’s coming home” in some affluent suburb – if anything just due to pure cringe. We’re seemingly back to being bashed against the same wall once again, perhaps Labour might even get to oversee the sequel to their beloved JobBridge in a future coalition! To steal the words of the late poet Paul Curran, it often feels as if the youth of this country is constantly stuck dealing with dread induced by this “eternal return of the same”.
perhaps the book exists for you
Something that depresses me about the Irish left (at least in the twenty-six counties) is our weird habit of ahistory. It frequently feels as if organisations and individuals shy away from reflecting on past struggles, limiting any analysis as a result. Ideas of historic solidarity or ideological continuity are thrown out the window – leaving us with badly reheated talking points from other English-speaking countries and endless GoFundMe discourse. We hesitate to look back at ourselves, something especially insane when you consider these constant cycles we’re stuck with.
This ahistory is on some level aided by approaches taken by our revolutionary left. How come there hasn’t been a decent, in-depth look back on the history of organisations like the SWN or CPI (beyond those written by cranks)? How come we’ve let mass struggles against water charges, mass emigration, and austerity get removed from collective consciousness? How are we at a point where parties who sold out the working class can trick some of the most annoying people online into canvassing for them? If we’re stuck living out the same struggles until the planet melts, perhaps studying what came before might be more productive than tweeting endless Keir Starmer jokes.
One of the biggest stories in left circles over the past while has been the tragic passing of Rayner Lysaght, a revolutionary Marxist involved in the Fourth International. Lysaght will most likely be remembered for his theoretical works – with texts such as ‘The Republic of Ireland’ and ‘The Story of The Limerick Soviet’ helping to radicalise a generation of activists. Most of these works are now fairly hard to access, barely being discussed beyond niche Facebook groups for insane people. Young socialists attracted towards groups such as People Before Profit or the Connolly Youth Movement are unlikely to have engaged with his work, something that’s fairly depressing.
Perhaps the best way we can honour the life of Lysaght and escape these constant cycles of discourse is to break from our habit of ahistory – temporarily turning inwards to locate a way out. There’s a lot the Irish working class has to be proud of in our past, be it the Irish Citizen Army, Dunnes Stores workers striking against Apartheid, or the widespread non-payment of water charges – it’s just a case of discussing it in an open, non-sectarian way. To very badly paraphrase the words of Peter Weiss, it’s not enough to point that the libraries are open – first we have to overcome the generations-old compulsive idea that the books don’t exist for us.