Five years after the blanket bank guarantee which led to a €69 billion bank bailout being foisted on the people, the Irish haven't come out in mass protest to demand justice. Jasmin Marston, through a series of interviews with Irish people which was undertaken as part of her research for a MSc in International Relations, tries to find out why.
So where were all the angry Irish? More often in pubs than on the street? Maybe. To explore the reasons of the lack of overt contention I decided to write my thesis on the subject and interviewed some of the smart and active folks from Ireland to get a better understanding.
The factors were summed up by one respondent:
“It is more like a nuclear reaction… our perfect storm.”
The following article is an overview of my research, which included 18 interviews and a plethora of readings, shedding some light on why Ireland has seen only limited amount of protests against the bank bailout and austerity measures forced upon them over the past years.
Fear, hopelessness and guilt
“for men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute” – Hoffer, The True Believer (1951:7)
People in Ireland seems discontented yet, as interviewee 14 put it “anger has been paralyzed by fear” and adds that it’s a fear linked to the level of indebtedness.
In fact, Irish households accumulated large debts to fund purchases of property (which now have fallen sharply in value) during the boom fueled by cheap, available money from Europe. Some 80% of the 200,000-350,000 households estimated to be in negative equity are thought to be first-time buyers. The younger age group is hit particularly hard (people in their late 20’s, 30’s and 40’s), and might have bought into the guilt-laden approach presented by Brian Lenihan (former Minister of Finance) responding to a question of responsibility by an RTÉ reporter with ‘let’s be fair about it, we all partied’ (Lenihan, 2010).
Interviewee 15 states: “a lot of people feel that they lost control of themselves, they spend too much money, they borrowed too much money – I think there is a bit of guilt out there.”
For now it seems people “just desperately hoping that this will pass” said interviewee 1.
“If you believe what [the government] tells you, you can be at peace with things. Because they tell us everything is going to be ok, because we are doing the right thing.” Interviewee 16
A vital part of getting involved, for example in a protest, is the feeling that one’s involvement would matter (Passy and Giugni, 2001), yet often a sense of hopelessness in changing the situation is present in Ireland, echoed by interviewee 17: “if I thought there was a way I could actually achieve something […] I would get involved”.