Rising up to the rising

As we commemorate those who died for what they did in 1916, have we as a nation forgotten what it is to stand up and be accountable for our actions?

Would the legacy of those who fought and died in the Easter Rising of 1916 still be as strong had they denied responsibility for their actions in the days that followed? What would we have thought if those who had led the rising, instead of standing up to be counted, stated that they were simply acting on behalf of the Irish people and, as a result, were no more or less guilty than anyone else?

Watching the commemoration of the Easter Rising yesterday, inexplicably absent from our state broadcasters’ schedule, organisations of whom we expect accountability and responsibility were to the fore. An Garda Síochána, safeguarding some 3,000 spectators who had converged on O’Connell Street, have a clearly defined rank structure and independent ombudsman to which their members are answerable. Similarly, the members of the Defence Forces who marched to the GPO operate under the strict enforcement of military discipline and accountability at every level.

All of this begs the question why we, as a people, hold some to such high standards, while allowing a more nonchalant attitude to develop toward others. Do we associate a more immediate danger with out of control batons and weapons than altered balance sheets and shady bank practices? As the country celebrated the 95th anniversary of the Easter Rising yesterday, will we be any closer to achieving accountability for the banking meltdown as we celebrate its centenary?

Less than a week after its publication, the only part of the Nyberg report that has stuck with me is its failure to name names. Its 156 pages may as well have been replaced with a reference to Brian Lenihans’ idiotic idiom that “We All Partied”. In doing so it has, in fact, brought nothing new to the party. The results of a poll in yesterdays Sunday Independent showed that 84 percent believe that Peter Nyberg was wrong not to name names. Unless this poll has a margin of error of 16 percent, I worry for the future of our country when a not insignificant percentage remain unconcerned with seeking out those who are culpable and seeing them brought to justice.

I am unaware as to any point in history when an entire country and its people have been deemed responsible for a given event. Even Holocaust survivors, having been subjected to horrific treatment at the hands of Germany, have never been as short-sighted as to blame all Germans. To do so would have been lazy and reprehensible. Yet the Nyberg report has done just this.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the collective responsibility that it alludes to, however, is that in the long run it ends up leaving no one responsible. The unfortunate thing is that it appears that we now want to simply move on, setting our sights on job creation and renegotiating the terms of our bailout package instead. While it’s hard to argue against the importance of this, this will not solve all our issues. Similar to a company that announces losses during a particularly bad news day in the hope that it will stay under the radar, those who are accountable for the mess live in hope that they will be given a free pass, having left everyone else too busy frantically chasing their tails trying to fix what they have broken.

At some point in our (distant) future, the banking crisis and the property crash will be things of the past, having been overcome by our pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and living through the harsh austerity measures placed upon us. It will only be then, when we are no longer caught up in the immediacy of wondering where our next meal is coming from, or who is going to pay for it, that we will finally get a chance to look back at what happened.

Unless we insist on accountability now, we will feel little consolation knowing that justice has not been served. Realisation of this will soon be followed by fear: the inconsolable fear that a lack of deterrents will have taught those who played with our futures nothing, and that this could happen again. If and when this happens, the lazy reports will once again conclude that we were all responsible. The difference is that this time they will have been correct.

Feeling alive is harder than you think

Hardly a day passes without the thoughts of what it means to feel alive entering our consciousness, either when friends regale us with their adventures from the previous weekend, or through the media, whose narrative extols its virtues, surmised with a celebrity example to help make it feel within reach.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are not making it beyond the concept stage, and of those who do, the feeling is acute. While the thoughts of feeling alive conjure up connotations of exhilaration and joy, for many nowadays this feeling is characterised by pain and disheartenment, its feeling the only thing letting its bearers know that they are, indeed, alive. Far from a blessing, these people have the misfortune of knowing what it feels like to be alive every moment of every day.

You would be forgiven for assuming I speak of those whose lives are in turmoil as a result of a natural disaster or the dictator du jour in their native country, but you would be wrong. Those whom I refer to are instead our own countrymen and women, whose hopes and dreams have been replaced with mere existence. They know all too well the pain of feeling alive.

Their struggle is as valid as any you’ll read in today’s papers, as theirs too is a matter of life and death: not of the body, but of the mind. The mind, set free, gives those with hopes and dreams the chance to achieve their greatest potential. Without this freedom, they are but a shell. The feeling of failure, dejection, and helplessness currently being felt by so many Irish should not be taken lightly.

While a post-mortem has yet to attribute recession as anyone’s cause of death, the truth is that we walk among those every day whose new reality has left them feeling dead inside. The evidence left behind by their killer is available for all to see, and manifests itself in many ways. Shop fronts whose open for business signs have been replaced by hand written messages of submission, their contents known without having to be read. Ghost estates, resembling adult playgrounds whose users have been called to dinner, permanently: the legacy of those who gambled and lost, and lost big. These are the death certs of modern day Ireland, and the killer is still on the loose.

Those for whom this country has nothing left to offer have already gone, or are in the process of leaving. Those deemed lucky enough to still have a job face a different pain. Doing more for less, they are expected to walk around with a skip in their step, joyful in the knowledge that they still have a job. It’s as if we have forgotten a time when to feel alive was to do more than merely survive, and happiness was more than just the preserve of the celebrity. It was, instead, a feeling of joy and exhilaration that was available to all. Until those in charge can remind us what it really means to feel alive again, we will continue to be dead inside, and our killer will remain at large.