IT was a sign of the times in 2009 when large audiences paid to see four men complaining for a couple of hours about the state of the nation. How little times have changed that you can do the same in 2012. The 2009 crew was Fintan O’Toole, Shane Ross, Pat Leahy and Matt Cooper. The latter two have been replaced by David McWilliams and Nick Webb. All four have books to promote and spleen to vent.
Olivia O’Leary will chair the Four Angry Men shows in Dublin and Cork. It will be a question and answer session, with the audience dictating the thrust of the debate. “It’s an opportunity to put on stage the kind of argument that should be happening anyway,” O’Leary says.
O’Leary is not short on opinions: on the ECB’s role in our disastrous bank bailout, on the strong line we should take in negotiations with “the Germans”, and the scandalous pensions and salaries paid out to management of bust banks. “Your anger does boil over, at times,” she says. “You ask: ‘Who is this country being run for?’ And it’s clearly for the banks.”
The big difference since 2009 is the new government. The general election was not change, but false hope. O’Leary says the show will not be an exercise in ‘what-ifs’ and cynicism. She wants to elevate the pub rant above grudges and disappointments to a discussion of why, as a society, we allowed ourselves to be beggared by elites. “We seem, over the last 15 years, when it comes to the common good, to think everything is impossible. We have to talk about the protection that our Constitution gives to individual property rights.
“We consistently cede the common good to the rights of individuals. There’s always this ‘but would it be constitutional?’ question every time we come up against bankers’ contracts, or ministers’ pensions. You have to ask, what’s wrong with the Constitution that stops us again and again.” O’Leary’s allusion to solutions is shared by her panel. Fintan O’Toole will discuss Up the Republic!, a collection of essays that examines how Ireland can live up to its pretensions of equality and transparency.
David McWilliams’s new book, The Good Room, is about how Ireland “ended up in debtor’s prison” — it offers alternatives. Only Ross and Webb strike a note of real dismay with their latest book, The Untouchables. Its subtitle says it all: ‘The people who helped wreck Ireland — and are still running the show’.
Still, Shane Ross in full, righteous flight is one of the most entertaining sights in Irish public life.
O’Leary says the show hopes to get people talking about where we move onto, as citizens and consumers. “What we can do with the powers we have to show the Government that there are things we’d like them to take a stronger line on.”
One of our collective failures, as citizens over the last few years, has been to indulge in unfocused ranting: ‘They’re all at it’, we say; ‘Sure, what can you expect?’ we shrug.
The Four Angry Men, and one angry woman, offer an antidote, a call for us to realise that we are citizens, not subjects.
And for an education in useful anger, and where to point it, this show could be the place to start.
* Four Angry Men is at the Cork Opera House on Nov 25, and at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre on Nov 27
“We have to retain the energy of anger, but it’s time to put it to some good use. People feel utterly powerless, but in fact we still have the capacity to reject some of the more scandalous ways in which the old system is still operating. Whether it’s outrageous pensions for ministers or bankers or the continuing payment of the promissory notes for Anglo and Nationwide, they’re only getting away with it because most citizens remain silent. There was a hope, perhaps, that radical change would be delivered from above. We now know that if we’re going to have a real republic, we have to make it ourselves.”
“If you are one of the oligarchs of the civil service, or one of the clique of highly paid insiders who helped plunge the country into darkness, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d got away with wrecking the place. The same old insiders and cronies seem to be unaffected by the near collapse of the economy, savage unemployment and grim austerity measures. Enough is enough, it’s time for action.”
“Nothing makes me more angry than the failure of Ireland’s ruling oligarchy to tackle the problems that became obvious four years ago. It is particularly disturbing as the obstacles have been correctly and clearly identified. First came the identification, when Fine Gael and Labour diagnosed the Fianna Fáil disease. Next came the paralysis. The cure turned out to be the same drug. Ex-bankers are being restored to their former places of power and privilege. Quangos have been saved, not culled. Patronage and cronyism are as bad as they always were. On Mar 31 the Irish people will show its continued deference to the Anglo agenda when we pay over €3.1bn to the new national overlords. Perhaps we will have the guts to park it. Otherwise the nation will join us all in an outbreak of anger.”