Beyond the neon runes

The forgotten many

So, Enda is gone, and in his stead is some young fella, a gay lad apparently, one from out foreign. Mental. And this new chap is very hard to read, so hard that most of us have chosen to keep our powder dry, not quite affording him a honeymoon period, but certainly allowing him time to do something which properly annoys us and is befitting of our most cantankerous ire.

But while we measure up Mr Varadkar, and decide if he’s naughty or nice, the legacy of his predecessor must first be dealt with. For some, Enda will always be that cold, distant figure, the man who grinned his way through seven years in office without conveying a hint of warmth. Then there’s those who’ll look back on a tenure during which we transitioned from austerity to not-quite austerity as a time of unavoidable hardship, arguing that Mr Kenny martialled us through those seven years with a safe, considered hand.

Like most people, my thoughts on our former Taoiseach lie somewhere in the middle. Having been cocooned in the safe, friendly environment of third-level education for the majority of his reign, I have been, in a way, fireproofed from most of his more unpopular policies. A lot of what he did just didn’t affect me, at least not directly. Therefore, I was free to offer a dispassionate view.

When people spat vitriol in his direction I listened intently, acquiescing to their beliefs, happy to discover just what it was they so loathed about our head of state. And similarly, when others backed him, defended him, I conceded that maybe they were right, maybe Enda wasn’t such a bad egg after all. But then I heard that phrase, that misguided, hurtful phrase, the one which he built an entire election campaign around, and my thoughts on the man changed.

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‘Let’s keep the recovery going.’ Five words, each of them a dagger to the heart of those for whom there has been no recovery, for the people whose lives have been shattered by the downturn. People who have lost everything and must live with the realisation that they will never get it back, that all they can hope to do is regain a fraction of what they once had. Not to mention the people who have never known recovery, of any type. The people born into hardship, who have stayed there their entire lives. The people who are ignored by one government after another, those who are just left to flounder, their lives deemed too complicated, too difficult to deal with. Recovery? Survival is their aim.

The arrogance of this statement was brought to bear by the shocking figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) last week. Described as ‘blackspots’, the figures highlighted the areas in the country most affected by unemployment, and Limerick featured prominently. As someone who grew up in a part of the South-east which seemed to miss out on the Celtic Tiger boom altogether, I’m well-versed in issues surrounding lack of jobs and the crippling effect unemployment can have on a region. But these numbers stunned me.

The John’s A electoral division has an unemployment level of 58.3%. Is that not obscene? Is that not the most staggering statistic you have ever heard? Even the ‘less-affected’ areas have numbers which one can barely comprehend: Unemployment in Galvone B is 45%, Ballynanty 43.6%, Abbey C 41.9%, Prospect B 40.7%, Glentworth C 40.2%. These are figures which bring to mind the very worst ghettoised cities in America. Again, as someone safely ensconced in the city centre, someone who gets paid to sit on their ass and write a column, I don’t see these people, don’t see first-hand the impact of such widespread joblessness, but I don’t need to see it with my own eyes to know this is a chronic problem, a problem which has been allowed to fester for generations.

To put it into perspective, unemployment in John’s A has actually increased since the last Census, far from seeing a recovery the people in this part of Limerick city have had their situation deteriorate since Enda Kenny took office. And yet the blame can’t solely be placed at the doorstep of Dáil Éireann. Week after week we read about exciting new initiatives for the Mid-west region, plans for 2020, for 2030 and beyond, regeneration, rejuvenation and, dare I say it, recovery. All of this sounds great and I truly look forward to the revitalisation of this great city, but I can’t help but wonder if those same people, those people who have been ignored for generations will again miss out when the gravy train rolls into town.

Because that’s the thing with chronic unemployment, with systematic exclusion of certain facets of society, it becomes habitual. Those behind these new and exciting business plans may talk of jobs, of opportunities, of taking those out of work and giving them a new life, but it’s not that simple. It’s not just a case of marching into Galvone, announcing that there’s jobs to be had and having hundreds of eager workers follow you back to the factory. No, the issues in these areas run far deeper than mere lack of jobs. Again, I can point to my own experiences growing up and the omnipresent cloud which encircled my family and friends. Disillusionment sets in, helplessness, desperation. You feel unloved, ashamed, dirty, unworthy, disgusting.

From there, with negativity permeating your everyday existence, it’s inevitable that one loses hope, that you turn to whatever you can find for salvation, to drugs, to drink, to crime. And all this does is deepen the divide, introducing you to new systems, new corridors of shame, places where your self-image, your self-esteem takes more punishment. You’re ferried from one office to another, sign here, sign there, “jump through all these hoops and we may look favourably upon you”, the overall effect is one of dehumanisation, of taking away whatever self-worth remains and replacing it with despondency and desperation.

If this situation is ever to be redressed, if these people are ever to be allowed to feel part of things again, there needs to be a concerted focus on improving their circumstances. Not, a piddling little venture here and there, not new sports clubs or youth clubs, but something substantial, something which will make those who live in these areas feel like they matter. There needs to be serious investment, the kind of investment which breeds confidence, which promotes positivity, big numbers, big money, 2030 kind of money.

This investment can only come via our elected representatives. If they are really serious about serving the people of Limerick then they need to serve all of them, not just those who are likely to come out and vote. The chances of them doing this, of making a stand and demanding that something be done, are highly unlikely. Because when it comes to these areas, these places where unemployment is rife, the chief concern of their new boss, of the man at the helm, is merely that all those committing benefit fraud be brought to justice.


The phubbing cheek of it

We’ve all been there, you’re telling your significant other about something amazing which happened to you at work today, about how Mairead from Accounts did a big fart and everyone in the office heard it, and you look over to see your partner engrossed, in their phone.

It’s the height of rudeness, isn’t it? What could be more interesting that a story about Mairead’s chronic flatulence? Nothing, certainly not Snapchat or Instagram or, God forbid, Facebook. And yet time and time again they do it, absent-mindedly scrolling through complete nonsense while you regale them with tale after tale of office hilarity.

Well, now there’s a new name for this type of behaviour, a way of shaming those who so callously choose to ignore you when you’re in the middle of another fantastic story. ‘Phubbing’, the act of snubbing someone by looking at your phone, is one of modern society’s more unpleasant phenomena and something which no self-respecting grown-up should do to their beloved.

But fear not, because I am here to solve all your twenty-first century problems. So, what should you do if you’re being phubbed? Well, what you don’t do is storm out in a huff, they won’t even notice that, because they are harsh and uncaring. Similarly, it’s pointless trying to take the phone off them, remember you’re dealing with an incredibly immature person here, they’ll just go straight back to the phone the minute you leave it down.

No, the only way to deal with these ignoramuses is to give them a taste of their own medicine. Yep, that’s right, phubb the feckers right back. That’ll learn them. Leave them sit there, on their phones, thinking they’re phubbing you, when in fact, you’re the one phubbing them. Instant victory – and guaranteed to make them put down their phone to see what you’re looking at.