Brendan O’Connor: ‘Future of our Republic couldn’t be in better hands’

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Brendan O’Connor: ‘Future of our Republic couldn’t be in better hands’

Seventy years on, there’s a lot done, more left to do. Thank God for a new generation without our baggage, writes Brendan O’Connor


FUTURE: A woman has her face painted at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin last month
FUTURE: A woman has her face painted at the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin last month

Every generation stands on the shoulders of giants. And in an ideal world, that means that every generation can reach a little bit higher. They can take the achievements of the generation before as a new baseline, and then leap higher again, creating new baselines.

What is acceptable in Irish culture is metamorphosing faster all the time. We may not have had full-scale revolution in a while but we have certainly enjoyed speeded-up evolution. Culturally, this country is unrecognisable from where it was 70 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even five years ago.

Take one small example. Take so-called political correctness. Take all those people who say you can’t say anything any more. They may have something of a point. Humour and piss-taking, in particular, is an area that has maybe suffered a bit under the new dispensation. It sometimes feels a bit as if there are too many people out there waiting to wilfully misunderstand something clearly said in jest, and to take offence on behalf of others. Irony and satire are often deliberately taken seriously in order to cause a row. There can be a rush, too, to “cancel” anyone who has ever put a foot wrong, which is fine until you get a bit older and you realise that if we cancel everyone who’s ever put a foot wrong, we will all end up cancelled.

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But those are the exceptions. In general the new culture around language and behaviour and respect has led to a change of mindset about how we see those who are different to us. We have come to understand that a lot of our language and attitudes around people who are a different colour, a different sexuality, who look different to us, who have different abilities, who behave differently to us, was ignorant, blinkered and unkind.

It was, in a sense, a painful transition for a country where homogeneity was practically a religion, a country fearful and suspicious of difference. It required mass-scale re-education and a bit of people having to correct grandad on things we don’t say any more. But overall, it has meant that there has never been a better time to be different in Ireland, to be gay, black, disabled, female, mentally ill, to deviate from the norm in any way. Of course it’s still not an easy road for many people, but it is objectively better.

Much of this has come about not just through so-called political correctness but also through the great Irish skill for storytelling. Where once the narratives we told were of divisions and even hate, in the last decade we started telling each other stories of inclusion, stories of difference, stories of shared humanity. And we realised a startling thing. We realised that, in fact, all of us are different, all of us are other, that there is no normal, that there is really no them, there’s only us.

A lot of this outbreak of kindness can be put down to the new consciousness of millennials. They get stick for being work-shy, precious, entitled and snowflakey, when in fact that’s often a distortion of what they really are: Kinder, more open, more tolerant, more diverse and more accepting of diversity, more idealistic, more ambitious for the world, more engaged with society and with the problems of others.

As a Gen X-er, I grew up to believe that we were more modern, more progressive and more right than my parents’ generation. And I still like to think we are in some ways. But you also realise, as you get older, that we have a lot to learn from previous generations. So now, as a new generation comes along that is more modern, more progressive and more right than mine, we should welcome them, and welcome them in the hope that they will realise, in time, that while they know it all, there’s something to be learnt from those of us who’ve been around a bit longer.

So whither our Republic? In the past 70 years we have seen extraordinary generations who brought about extraordinary change. The gun was taken out of our politics. Women came out of the home. The yoke of the church as an instrument of governing people was largely thrown off. We came out economically and socially from the shadow of the UK and created fleeting economic miracles and steady economic progress. The EU changed forever the dynamic between us and our near neighbour, and it could do so again. We stayed farmers but we also became technologists, financiers, property moguls, inventors and investors. Our culture nurtured us, stayed alive and kept evolving. We took the music of the UK and America and added our own unique blue-eyed soul to it and sold it back to them. There was a time when U2 were the best American band in the world. The greatest living legacy of punk is probably a poet from Tipp, reared on the Dubliners. We took the language of the UK and America, too, and wrote some of the greatest books in that language.

We sent our best abroad at times, and they built America and gave that nation its most iconic presidents. We even had a hand in America’s first black president, who claimed links to a small village near a vast petrol station in Offaly. We absorbed the most English games of golf and rugby and showed them how it’s done at times.

Economically and culturally, we went from an introverted, protectionist clenched fist to a small open economy that adapted fast to the rest of the world, and always added an extra something of our own to anything we put our hand to.

And now we have a generation who can take all that progress and those achievements as their baseline and take it to the next level. It is a generation which has a confidence previous generations never had, or if they did, had to work hard to gain. Millennials are mercifully devoid of the poison of nationalism that was instilled in previous generations.

Technology has set them free, and made them true citizens of the world. It has, in many ways, taken away barriers to entry too, and has meant that their creativity and imaginations are no longer limited so much by being stuck on a small rock off Europe. This is a generation without any of our baggage.

Put aside for a moment all the reasons they have to resent the legacy, economic and otherwise, we’ve left them.

In terms of potential, these kids, with much of the heavy lifting done for them, will surely create a kinder, more creative, less dysfunctional, more diverse, more tolerant, more confident, more industrious, more daring, fairer Republic. And let them remember while they do that, that though there was much left to improve when they got the place, the people of the previous 70 years had done their bit too.

And jetpacks. Obviously, there’ll be jetpacks, too.

Sunday Independent

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