Fintan O'Toole on why the Irish should shed their fear—but hang on to their shameby Fintan O'Toole / November 17, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Down and out on Dublin’s O’Connell bridge: but sober reflection is just what Ireland needs
The Irish Rugby Football Union recently had to admit something that would have been unthinkable even a year ago. In Ireland, rugby has some working-class fans, but on the whole it is rooted in the business, professional and well-off classes, and still associated with fee-paying schools. So the IRFU’s admission that it was struggling to sell tickets for the first international match at its new stadium—Ireland were playing the world champions South Africa—was startling. The reason? Tickets, averaging €85 (£74), were too expensive.
In truth, most fans could probably dig up €85. They are not, on the whole, among the half a million Irish now on the dole (15 per cent of the workforce). Many may be stuck in negative equity thanks to the 50 per cent fall in house prices since 2007. But those who are in work can still pay their mortgages. There’s €100bn (£87bn) of savings in Irish banks—not bad for a country of 4.5m people. Those fee-paying schools still have long waiting lists.
So this was about things less tangible than money: shame and fear. For now, these feelings are keeping the economy in recession and morale low. But they also offer a glimpse of how Ireland could rebuild itself.
The shame comes from knowing that, two years ago, an Irish rugby fan would have thought nothing of paying €85—even though this is over 50 per cent higher than the price of an equivalent ticket in Scotland. Spending was a badge of honour: it proved you were a hero of the boomtime economy. You belonged in one of the world’s most enthusiastic (and, in retrospect, gullible) consumer cultures. It was an attitude that combined some of the worst and best of Irish culture. It was fed by an older wildness, generosity, and contempt for the mean and the tight-fisted. But that admirable spirit became distorted into an often demented consumerism. People paid through the nose for everything—and now, with the painful realisation that long-term prosperity was an illusion, comes a buyer’s remorse. It is not just that people feel like fools for spending so much, but embarrassed for spending it so easily. Hence the reluctance to pay €85 for rugby, or, for that matter, €3 for a coffee.