There is a story about The Duke of Wellington and the Connaught Rangers. It may be apocryphal, but the point behind tells us a truth about ourselves - or something that was once true.
The story goes that Wellington, himself from Co Meath, was reviewing the Connaught Rangers before engaging in battle with the French. He took one look at these soldiers - mostly Catholic Irish and often from the rural areas of the province - and declared: “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me.”
At the Battle of Busaco in 1810, during the Peninsular War, Wellington praised the Rangers for their courage, declaring: “I never witnessed a more gallant charge than that made just now by your regiment.” It was not for nothing that these West of Ireland soldiers were known as “the Devil’s own”.
A different form of courage was shown during the Land Wars of the late 1800s, an ultimately successful campaign for the redistribution of land to tenants from landlords, won by a prolonged period of civil unrest.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Northern Catholics and Irish women, inspired by the civil rights movement and feminism, took to the streets to claim the way politics and society worked was unacceptable and had to be changed.
At around the same time, Irish gays began to campaign against the criminalisation of their sexuality, culminating first in David Norris’ success in the European Court of Human Rights in 1991 to have homosexuality decriminalised.
The point of these stories is that once, the Irish, whether faced with a mighty enemy like Napoleon or laws or governmental and social practices that were injurious to our way of life and well-being, stood up and said ‘No’ and fought - whether as a soldier, a civil rights activist, or as just an ordinary person who used his/her democratic right to voice his/her concerns - to end a rotten system in an effort to bring about something better.
Those days are gone. That is a real tragedy.
Ireland over the last two and a half years has seen a Government with no mandate transfer billions of taxpayers’ money into dead and zombie banks; make predictions that the economy has “turned the corner” only for those predictions to be proved wrong as things became steadily worse; and punish harshly the ordinary people of this State - through massive tax hikes and cuts - for the reckless, incompetent, and ignorant way in which Government, banks, and developers, gambled on our economy.
Then, to add insult to injury, the people who brought about the recession retire with massive pensions and golden handshakes.
What was our response? Silence mostly, a few irate phone calls to Joe Duffy, and a lot of ‘Musha, isn’t it terrible?’ There was no taking to the streets to protest; no campaign to demand our political system, which has failed us so badly, be completely rebuilt; no meaningful reaction when the buffoonish Cowen and arrogant Lenihan surrendered to the EU/IMF; no taking a stance against the ‘Capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich’ agenda the political system favours for us.
It is little wonder that the Greeks, when protesting against their own government declared “We are not Irish. We are Greek.”
Insider is not calling for us to riot and take up arms against the State. Look at the example instead of the Arab world. The people of Libya face more hardship than we do and for taking to streets they face the threat of death and violence, yet they continue to protest, using their voice and their courage to say ‘No’ to dictatorship. If only we had half the courage the Egyptians and Libyans display in their peaceful protests...
If we refuse to take a stand at this, the darkest hour in the State’s history since the Civil War, what hope have we, indeed what right have we to expect the things we dearly want to see - a transformed political system; a reformed Oireachtas and banking sector; a balanced and equitable approach to the economic crisis; an end to cronyism; measures to prevent any recurrence of a future property bubble; real solutions to the problems of unemployment and education; a coherent and sensible plan from the next Government to start bringing us out of recession?
The social and political elite know we are no longer ‘the fighting Irish’, and that we have become supine and meek. However there is still one weapon in our otherwise meagre arsenal - the vote.
Insider is well aware of Karl Marx’s cynical, but rather accurate, description of elections: “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”
It is hard to argue against that. Certainly many feel that few good people enter politics and what is already there is hardly worth voting for, but what one woman said to me a number of years ago is also true, and possibly more important: “Too much blood has been spilled in this country in order to win the basic human right to vote and to say who should govern us, for us to treat voting as a burden or an irrelevancy.”
Voting is the one means we have of being able to make any change or to send a message about what we want and do not want for our State.
If you think there is a good candidate out there - someone who can bring something fresh to the table in terms of the economy, society, and our future - vote for him/her. Do not assume there are enough people out there who think like you and will vote for him/her as well.
If you feel the person you are voting for is good, but there are not enough like him/her, and you feel s/he will have little impact on the Dáil, still vote for that person. It is the only way to ensure more and more new and worthwhile candidates not will start coming through, otherwise we are just going to be fed the same party hacks and yesmen we have been stuck with for too long.
If you do not like any of the candidates, you can spoil your vote. It is a legitimate form of protest.
By not voting, you are saying that everything about what Cowen/Lenihan/Ahern/McCreevy/Harney inflicted on us is fine and that the EU/IMF bailout, the ploughing of billions into the dead bank Anglo, and our broken political system is perfect and does not need changing.
If you really do not feel like that, then you have to vote. At least you can say you tried to make a difference. It is your democratic right to vote. Use it. Plenty of people put their lives on the line so that you could have that privilege.
Insider would encourage all those eligible to vote in Galway East and Galway West to do so. You can help Ireland get back on track by voting. If you do not and the results on February 26 do not turn out as you liked, then blame yourself. You have the chance. Do not waste it.