Irish Water Protests: “It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the landing.”

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“It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the landing.”

“It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the landing.’

At the beginning of Mathieu Kassovitz’s brilliant 1995 film La Haine the narrator riffs on a Douglas Adams quote about it not being the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop at the end.  Kassovitz compares it to a French society in freefall, but endlessly repeating to itself ‘So far, so good.  So far, so good. So far, so good.

Until.

Bang.

Since the current government took charge of the economic mess that was Ireland in 2011 they have made decisions that have pushed many people into employed poverty.  Young people are leaving Ireland again in search of work.  Taxes are higher, benefits are lower.  No one in the state has escaped the recessionary scalpel as successive budgets cut ever deeper. It’s hard not to wonder if somewhere in government buildings our leaders weren’t muttering to themselves ‘So far, so good.  So far, so good.  So far, so good.’

And it was good for our government, relatively, until the Irish Water (scandal/fiasco/debacle/protests) ___________.  It’s not just about Irish Water, it’s about poverty, or working poverty, or empty fridges, or hungry children, or Final Notices from utility companies, or a feeling of not being able to take any more cuts, or who was given the Irish Water contract, or combinations of all these.  This is what it took to drive Irish people to protest in significant enough numbers that they couldn’t be ignored.For the current government it was the landing. Bang.

Caring enough to act

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In September 2000 I was walking through the majority Muslim area of Bury Park, Luton when I noticed that a billboard advertising foamburst shampoo had been covered in red paint.  The billboard, pre-red paint, had shown a female model smiling out at us from her shower, naked except for the foam.  I remember thinking it funny that people found the ad offensive.  My next thought was that it was great that people cared enough to do something like that.  I didn’t care enough about anything to buy paint and brushes, get a ladder, climb the ladder, paint over a huge billboard etc.  I saluted the fact that they cared enough to act, even if I didn’t share the nature of their grievance.

The Irish Water protests have caused a similar reaction in me.  While political parties and most media outlets have focused on isolated incidents where individual protestors or Gardai have let themselves down I’ve just been glad that people care enough to act.  People are talking about politics again, or in some cases for the first time.  This is always good.

Less good is the fact that sections of the media demand that we identify ourselves as pro or anti Irish Water.  Can’t I just be somewhere in the middle?  For far too long this reductionist discourse has dominated our media.  Pro life.  Pro choice.  Pro same-sex marriage.  Anti euthanasia.  Interviewers ask people which camp they’re in on divisive issues.  Do we have to be in camps?  Wouldn’t it be better to be on a scale, like height.  You possess height, where on the height scale are you?  Scales are better than camps.  Maybe I’m just getting old, when I was young I was certain about these types of things.

Don’t ever name a tax again

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The government made a major political mistake naming this tax and setting up Irish Water.  The protests have been a success in that the price each home will have to pay has been significantly reduced.  But if the government need money they’ll get it from somewhere.  They might increase income tax by say 0.15%.  Try getting a march going against that!  When they set up a water tax it gave the opposition, and protestors, a handy hook on which to hang their grievances.  Whoever wins next year’s general election, and it already looks like it’s going to be a fascinating one, will not be naming their taxes.  It looks like the 2015 election will be the first time in the history of the state that independent TDs will outnumber those attached to our main political parties.  What camp are you in on that?

It's good to talk

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