Hard lessons to learn

The boys of Coláiste Chríost Rí are all too aware of the harsh economic realities that face them after graduation, says Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

I AM AT Foreign Minister Micheál Martin’s alma mater, Coláiste Chríost Rí, in Cork city, book-ended by the Government’s four-year plan and the imminent budget, a classroom full of junior certificate pupils are discussing the realities of the deepening economic crisis.

They may just be 14 and 15 years old, been more celtic kittens than Celtic Tigers at the height of the boom, and not yet be members of the workforce, but they have as much — if not more — right than anyone to speak about what is happening to our economy.

Their generation, more than any other, will face the pressure of paying off the massive debt currently being placed on Irish peoples’ shoulders.

Equally, their generation risks being scattered across the globe in the search for work over the decade to come.

Yet, their generation is the only one not being given a voice in the national debate on all our futures.

“I don’t think I’ll stay in the country, there’s no real jobs here,” says Brandon Malone, one of a number of the group who are considering emigrating when they leave school.

“I’m probably going to go to America or Germany, or even Japan, where the jobs are. I want to work in IT, and all that, and America — mainly California — is where it’s all happening. It’s not here,” he says.

In the past, that comment from a teenager could have been passed off as youthful exuberance, but it is just as much the product of the surging unemployment rates that even schoolchildren are surrounded by every day.

Last year, a relative of CathalO’Mahony’s saw his 18-year-long career at a major multi-national company based here suddenly cut short after the firm relocated to another country.

In his mid-40s, the man has since moved to Russia to find equivalent work, sending money back home to his family, who are still based in Cork.

Another pupil says his father has been working “all hours of the night and on his days off” because redundancies in his office mean he now has to cover the work of his former colleagues.

“It’s been really tough for him. He can’t take the time off he wants, because he has to get through the work of the people who’ve been let go,” his son says.

A third pupil, Eoin Kennedy, explains how his uncle left for New Zealand at the end of November. A fourth, Daniel James, adds that his cousin has emigrated to Australia.

Adults may think people in school don’t notice what is happening, or don’t care, but the reality is not the case.

Modern Ireland is moulding their own views of the future.

With this in mind, young peoples’ opinions on politicians fighting over the best way to help Ireland recover is worth hearing.

“We’re just being told that we’re going to get out of it and everything’s going to be fine, but nobody’s actually expressing their genuine opinions. I mean, maybe we won’t get out of it as quickly as they say.

“A lot of the backbenchers don’t seem to really do anything. They just seem to be there only to get on the telly,” says Evan O’Leary.

Another pupil adds that the entire system is based on “a race for power.”

“They just say what they want us to hear, all of them, just to get where they want. All of the other parties are saying they won’t cut, but they’ll definitely have to cut somewhere.

“They say they’re going to make everything all right, but they’re not saying how they’re going to do it,” he says.

David Duggan’s view appears to echo the phrase that anyone who wants to be elected to a political position — and receive the privileges that come with it — shouldn’t be elected.

There are too many benefits given to those supposedly representing the rest of the population, he says, resulting in those agreeing to painful budget cutbacks having no real sense of the damage they will cause.

“They should halve the amount of ministers and get rid of the ministerial cars. If they want to use a car, they should use their own,” he says.

“I was listening to the radio this morning, and the cars, garda driver, and all that, is nearly €200,000 per minister and even more for the Taoiseach. That’s crazy.

“The ministers and TDs aren’t taking the equal hits.

“They’re attacking people on the minimum wage, instead of those at the bottom, They’re on huge salaries and they’re cutting the bottom. It should be cut at the top,” he says.

Surprisingly, some in the class believe the bail-out from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) will help to resolve these problems in the Irish political system.

Two eyes might spoil the broth, but the pupils at Choláiste Chríost Rí believe a second pair of eyes on Irish affairs — at least for a short time — could help cut down on corruption.

“I think the IMF coming in is a good idea,” says a voice from the back of the room.

“When we had the money, we weren’t able to control it, there was too much greed and the money came in too fast. The IMF and EU seem more organised, in fairness.”

Since the budget details were announced on Tuesday, discussions have understandably focused on how the communities will adapt to the immediate concerns facing them.

Few people are asking what impact these same cuts will have on the views of the generation who will be tasked with dragging the country out of its economic mess. There is more at stake today than Ireland’s short-term survival.



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