MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Let’s focus our anger where it’s needed

RESOLUTIONS are difficult to keep, so here are two wishes instead for the new year.

Can we please have a re-evaluation of anger? Anger has been severely devalued in the course of living through the current recession. I’m talking about public anger here, the kind of anger that Brian Lenihan once pointed out was not a policy.

Everybody is angry, or so it seems. Four Angry Men have just finished touring the country, dragging their anger around with them, sating the anger of some who came to see them, fuelling the anger of others. A few years ago there were Four Other Angry Men, but there’s still apparently enough anger out there for another tour.

In the week of the budget, the first caller to RTÉ’s Liveline was a man who was angry about the so-called mansion tax. He was mad as hell and he wasn’t going to take it any more. His anger was given the same airing as those who called in later in the week and spoke of the physical and emotional hardship of caring for loved ones while their meagre allowances were cut back.

Are these two expressions of anger worthy of an equal airing, or rating, on the national anger-ometer? Or is how well you express your anger the defining characteristic, rather than the righteousness underlining the anger?

Listen, view or read the media long enough and you’ll come across examples of every section of society who are fit to be tied with anger.

Property owners who are tending to a clutch of houses are as angry as the young couples who got duped into buying a one-bed apartment in the back of beyond because they were warned they’d better get on the property ladder.

Parents who have to stump up extra money to send their kids to fee-paying schools are as angry as strapped parents who can barely afford to send their kids to any school. Retailers are angry, as are hauliers and businesspeople and trade unionists, and anybody who isn’t covered by the Croke Park Agreement.

Public servants are angry because they are being — and this is a great word of the recession — “targeted” by elements who are against Croke Park. Children are being “targeted” by cuts to child benefit and all their mothers, rich and poor alike, are angry about that. Pensioners are angry, but not half as angry as they threaten they will be if there are any more cuts to their benefits.

Opposition politicians are angry at the government. Backbench government TDs are angry at the government. The Government is angry at the previous government. The previous government is not angry, because most of them are enjoying bloated pensions. Don’t get me started on the pensions or I’ll be angry all over again.

Anger has thus been devalued in recent years. Once upon a time, public anger was largely a reaction to some outrage, or a revelation about wastage of public money. These issues united people in their anger, and quite rightly so. Similarly, there is wide-spread anger when revelations come dropping slowly about politicians’ remuneration, and their safe harbour from the ill winds of recession.

But, to a large extent, anger is confined to personal circumstances. Many people have found their lives turned upside-down through no fault of their own. Hundreds of thousands have been thrust onto the dole. Multitudes are finding it next to impossible to keep up repayments on homes bought during the bubble years. Others — particularly those with disabilities, and their carers — struggle with state cutbacks.

All find themselves bereft, (much of their loss attributable to the manner in which the country was run by politicians, senior public servants, bankers and others). And all have a right to be angry at what has befallen them or their families.

But right now it seems that everybody is angry, and their main beef is that their own circumstances have changed, rather than how society as a whole is tearing itself apart. More than anything, the widespread expression of anger tells a tale about a lack of social solidarity — “I have no time to be angry on your behalf, because I’m too busy being angry for myself”.

It would be nice to think that in the new year, anger could be expressed sparingly, and on behalf of those who are most discommoded in these times.

Here’s the second wish. Can be have less waffle please about how this country would be fixed if we let businessmen at it?

In the throes of this recession, sages are to be found everywhere. The combination of transformative change in the economy, and a mass media age, has ensured the country is bursting with people with answers to our woes. These answers are usu-ally concerned with how we tell Germany and EU institutions to take a hike, get off our backs, and desist from crippling the citizens of this State.

The Answer Man assures us that his answers are relatively pain free. He suggests that all that is required is a display of testicular fortitude by our leaders, who, apparently, are too stupid to come up with these answers themselves.

A couple of weeks ago, on RTÉ’s Frontline programme, one individual suggested that what we needed was people like Dermot Desmond and JP McManus out there in Brussels batting on our behalf. These gentlemen, the contributor said, would bring “brains and balls” to the negotiating table.

This sentiment is widespread. It reverts to the notion that there is an easier way if only the stupid politicians would stand back and let real men — and the Answer Man is a man’s man — at it.

The answer in this case is as stupid as the notion that the health service would be fixed if Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary was put in charge.

Wealthy businesspeople are wealthy because they are involved in business, not running a country. The notion that people like Desmond and McManus — neither of whom made their money by actually making or selling anything — could better represent the country is utter waffle.

Both are undoubtedly intelligent, hard-nosed businessmen, but the idea that throwing in a couple of business heads would actually improve the country’s negotiating position betrays a wanton lack of understanding of the state the country is in.

The idea that getting Desmond and McManus to march in there, banging tables and craftily wrapping EU heads around their fingers, is fine and dandy to assuage anger, but as a strategy it is just short of meaningless.

So let’s have a little reality in the coming years, a little social solidarity, and maybe just a little optimism that things might just start getting better.

Happy new year.


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