Beyond the neon runes

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A man with a plan

March 1, 2017. With its national bus service on strike, Ireland is in a state of emergency. People are late for work, for school, for college. Others, unable to find alternative transport, miss doctor’s appointments, hospital visits, scheduled surgeries. Urban areas heave with excess traffic, rural communities become more isolated than ever. What is to be done? Who will fix this unholy mess?

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Enter Minister for Transport, Shane Ross. As the foremost authority on all things transport-related he would surely know what to do, surely have some thoughts, some ideas, on how to resolve this dispute.

“I have consistently said I won’t intervene directly. I don’t feel it would be the right thing to do.”

But you’re the Minister for Transport? And buses a form of transport, are they not?

“Where the minister, Deputy Ross, can act and where it is appropriate to do so, he has done so.”

That was Enda, sticking up for his pal, asking that everyone stop bothering Mr Ross so he can concentrate on remaining neutral, focus on twiddling both thumbs while this dispute resolved itself.

And it did, after a spell. At which point Minister Ross magically reappeared, showering himself with confetti while grim-faced union representatives counted the cost of their actions.

November 1, 2017. Irish Rail goes on strike, closing all services for the first of five planned days on the picket line. More than one hundred thousand passengers are affected. Bus Éireann step in to help fill the void, but it’s not enough. Chaos ensures. It’s almost apocalyptic. And there’s still another four days to come.

Minister Ross? What say you? Nothing? Nothing at all? Not even a terse, vacuous statement distancing yourself from the whole sorry affair? God, you must be really busy altogether. Ah I see, you’re putting the finishing touches to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup bid for 2023. Because you’re not just Minister for Transport are you? You’re also Minister for Tourism and Sport. Well, good luck with that bid, don’t let us down now, we’re relying on you.

July 2018. It’s been a great summer, one of the best ever. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to go them places where we’re guaranteed heat, where it’s not considered a freak occurrence. And if we’re going to them places we want to get there for as little as we can. Therefore, our airline of choice is Ryanair, the cheapest, most cheerful of them all.

But their air crew have clearly been hanging out with their bus driver pals, their train mates. They’ve been taking tips and decided that they’d quite like a strike of their own, and one at peak times, when overworked, underpaid Irish people get their couple of weeks off and head for the sun.

This time the grumbling is more muted, but it’s still a damn inconvenience. If only we had someone qualified enough to represent us in this dispute, an elected official who knew how these things worked and could ensure that our flight to Malaga on the 19th wasn’t going to be cancelled. It’d be brilliant, he could go in, knock some heads together, and emerge to rapturous applause, carried shoulder high by adoring, but mostly relieved, holiday-makers.

Sadly, that fella, Shane Ross I think he’s called, is busy with other things.

August 2018. Deputy Ross emerges from his thinktank. He looks excited, like he’s just been told the world’s biggest secret and can’t wait to share it. I wonder what it could be? A new superfast rail service, like the ones in Japan? Extended bus services for rural communities? Come on, Shane, stop being so coy.

“The Grandparent and Grandchild Expenses Reimbursement Scheme is aimed at recognising that grandparents allow young mothers and fathers re-enter the workforce by giving their children care they would not get anywhere else and which comes at no cost to parents or the State.”

The what now? I know you have no interest in transport, that’s been established, but what about all that tourism and sport you’re so good at? Remember when you posed with Dave Kearney and thought it was Rob? That was gas, it really showed your human side, showed how much you loved the oul’ sport. But this, this is a bit of a departure don’t you think? Is this what you were working on when all them strikes were happening, why you were too busy to intervene? Ah, I see. Well, show us a look then.

Hmm, so you want to give grandparents a thousand quid a year for minding their grandkids? And all they have to do is submit a form to the Department of Social Protection? But sure anyone could do that, surely they’ll need to provide some supporting documentation, vouched expenses, receipts, proof that their grandkids came to visit? No? Jaysus, I might apply for it myself.

Also, now that I think about it, don’t most grandkids have four grandparents? I know the world is changing and family dynamics aren’t what they were, but I think four is still the maximum. And if all four of those grandparents helped out with every one of their grandchildren for more than ten hours a week, how much money would they be looking at? If I were them I’d pack the house with as many grandchildren as it could hold and leave them there indefinitely, watching the bank balance rise with each passing episode of Peppa Pig.

Yes, of course their efforts should be recognised, Shane, no-one is suggesting they shouldn’t. But isn’t this a little, I don’t know, ill-prepared, misguided? As lovely as those children are, their grannies and granddads aren’t minding them on behalf of the State. So why should the State remunerate them for doing so? Is the issue here not the prohibitive cost of childcare? Why not use this money to create affordable government-run creches and pre-schools? Places where parents can leave their children in the hands of paid professionals when they go to work? Would that not be a better idea?

Ah now I get you, now I see where you’re coming from. This isn’t about childcare at all, is it? It’s about the imminent election and the grey vote. You scratch their backs and, hopefully, when the time comes, they’ll scratch yours. What if it doesn’t come to pass though, Shane? What if the ‘Granny Grant’ disappears without trace, shot down by those mean bullies at Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil? Or maybe that was the plan all along? Maybe you knew it would never come to pass, and just hoped that by making this stand you’d be remembered as a champion for the aged? You know Shane, you’re more clever than I gave you credit for.

Saturday night’s alright for fighting  

At no other time of the week would it be deemed acceptable. But come the weekend, come Friday night, Saturday night, we almost expect to see young men scrabbling round on the floor, murder in their eyes as they seek to right a wrong, defend theirs or their lady’s honour. Most of these encounters end as quickly as they started, ruffled shirts and hair, cut lips and shiners. But the more heinous leave scars which can take months, if not years, to heal.

A Garda campaign urging men to ‘Use Your Brain Not Your Fists’ has been launched, the aim being to curtail unprovoked assaults on innocent victims who are often left traumatised by the experience. Last year saw the highest number of assaults on our streets since 2008 and the guards are taking steps to combat this, identifying ‘assault hotspots’ and increasing their presence in these areas at key times.

But, as we’re only too aware, there’s not nearly enough guards to go round, and if a young man having a bad night wishes to take it out on another, unsuspecting, young man, then he’ll find a way to do so.

Which is where the public awareness campaign comes in, the hope being that it might educate young men on the consequences of their actions, make them understand that choosing to use their fists could see them lose their job, their ability to travel, maybe even result in jail time. I say maybe because, more often than not, you can randomly attack a stranger, ruin his life, and get away with a suspended sentence.

Really, in order for this, or any other similar campaign to work, the judicial system needs to row in too. It needs to start meting out the correct punishment, give the victims of these cowardly attacks the justice they deserve. Until it does there will be little change in the mindset of those who believe that Saturday night is, indeed, alright for fighting.