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Julien Mercille: 'We should transform Paddy's Day into a people’s celebration, that's not about blind patriotism'

If we created an alternative and more inclusive Paddy’s Day, it might even change the country for the better, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

EVERY COUNTRY IN the world has a national day. In Ireland, we have Paddy’s Day. Paddy’s Day is fun because it’s a day off and it’s a day when we can all enjoy ourselves. So far so good.

The bad thing about Paddy’s Day, however, is that it’s yet another opportunity for Official Ireland to whip up patriotic feelings among us. Official Ireland is the economic and political establishment, the Church, whoever calls the shots in this country.

Why is that wrong?

It’s wrong because it doesn’t make sense. We’re supposed to believe that because we’re all Irish, we are all united. In other words, we’re all on the same team, and a team doesn’t criticise teammates.

But the truth is that we’re not all the same. The biggest divide in Irish society is between Official Ireland and everybody else.

These two groups are fundamentally different, and in many ways, Official Ireland has been exploiting everybody else for a long while now. Examples are numerous.

Keeping to recent news reports, we can see that levels of inequality in the country are sky-high. The latest “Irish rich list” reveals the combined wealth of the top 300 richest Irish people reached an unprecedented level of €77 billion in 2016. There are 15 billionaires on it. Does that reflect your own paycheck?

Let’s take a look: 

The Weston family tops the list. They run a “transatlantic retail empire” including businesses like Penneys, Selfridges, Brown Thomas and Fortnum & Mason.

The wealthiest individual is Denis O’Brien at €4.7 billion, a fortune made in telecoms and the media.

Others include Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, who has now joined the billionaire club. U2 are the richest entertainers with a total wealth of €645 million. The richest actor is Liam Neeson, worth €113 million.

Niall Horan of One Direction is at €44 million. Rory McIlroy, who plays golf, has a €96 million fortune and is the richest sportsperson.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett—who did not make it onto the list—rightly said that those amounts are so obscene that they could pay for many of our problems in Ireland if we had a little more income redistribution.

Even in austerity, CEO salaries have risen

Moreover, whereas most of us have been told to tighten our belts under the last few years of austerity, Irish CEOs in the private sector have acquired an oversized belt. CEO pay has risen by up to 238% between 2009 and 2015.

During this time, average salaries in the private sector rose by only 2% annually.

And just last week, the Sunday Business Post had a front-page headline, “Bankers’ bonanza at AIB, Bank of Ireland and PTSB”. The article reported that bankers received “huge pay” last year: Bank of Ireland—in which the government has a 14% stake—paid 190 executives €54 million last year (€285,000 each), Permanent TSB—which is 74% owned by taxpayers—paid 63 executives €12.3 million (€190,000 each).

The alliance of Church and state

On another front, the Tuam babies scandal—and other Church scandals involving children—has shown that the Church hierarchy exploited ordinary people. The state relegated to the Church services like education and health, which were then delivered in a conservative fashion.

This has repercussions to this day, from religious sex education classes to conservative norms on health. Women still don’t have a right to abortion here and they do in virtually every other industrialised country.

The history of this alliance between Church and state is reviewed concisely in this superb article by Sarah-Anne Buckley, a historian at NUI Galway. She shows, once again, that there’s not much that unites ordinary people with the Catholic clergy leaders.

And to top it all off, when Enda Kenny made a speech about Tuam, he got help from a speechwriter paid €72,000 a year. Nevermind his party has had close links to the Church historically, to say the least.

So should we still celebrate Paddy’s Day? Maybe instead we should transform it into a real people’s celebration. One that is not about blind patriotism, but about ordinary people themselves, about their struggles and their achievements.

If this alternative Paddy’s Day grows large enough, it might even change the country for the better and kick out Official Ireland once and for all. But be careful: Official Ireland would probably outlaw this alternative Paddy’s Day before it becomes too threatening.

Julien Mercille is an associate professor at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille.

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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