A few weeks ago, I strolled the narrow streets of Dublin, down Temple Bar packed with pubs, onto Grafton Street where the shops are, then to Kildare Street.
There, the picture suddenly changed.
Barriers lined the street behind the Oireachtas – Ireland's Capitol.
"A pro-Hamas protest, better get out of here," I thought.
A quick word with a Garda changed my mind.
It was just a "far-right" rally.
As anodyne as the last one. I sighed in relief and kept going on my way.
O'Connell Street, Ireland's Main Street, was different last Thursday. On fire.
Basil, the main character in Oscar Wilde’s "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," said it right, "Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."
Well, Ireland's grim picture of itself right now reveals, layer upon layer, the crippling struggle of the Irish caught between progress and heritage.
Lost in debates over the particular colours and shades to use in their picture, the Irish only now start to realise that the canvas itself is rotten – devoid of substance.
On the surface, the portrait of Ireland is splashed with dark hues: bloody red strokes of loss and fiery orange strokes of rage, more Jack Pollock than Jack Butler Yeats.
Riots erupted, caused by the "lunatic, hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology," according to the chief of police, following the stabbing of three children and two adults, allegedly by an Algerian immigrant.
Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar reassured the public he would "use the full resources of the law,” not to go after the perpetrator, but after “individuals who post messages and images online that stir up hatred and violence."
This horror only deepened the fresh wound from last year’s murder of Ashling Murphy, a 23-year-old teacher, savagely stabbed 11 times in the neck by Jozef Puska, a Romani Slovak immigrant, while jogging by a canal. Puska, living in Ireland for 10 years without work, benefited from welfare payments and free housing.
An Irish generosity that the tánaiste (or deputy prime minister) Micheál Martin deliberately misled the public into believing was an EU obligation.
In April 2022, Iraqi migrant Yousef Palani murdered and beheaded two homosexual men in the quiet coastal town of Sligo.
Last September, an African migrant was arrested in Dublin Airport for stabbing a tourist. Earlier in January, there was chaos at the Citywest Transit Hub.
Once a luxury hotel and golf resort, turned into emergency accommodation for 'refugees' and finally into a battleground during Ramadan.
An assembly of about 500 Muslim men led to "significant violent incidents," requiring a massive response from armed police forces, uncommon in Ireland.
In this context, to call last week's upheaval simply a "far-right, anti-immigration" riot would be to miss the truth.
The struggle of common Irish people against the government’s policy of housing large numbers of asylum seekers in small communities around the country, known as "direct provision," has been a long and complex one — but not violent.
The rapid influx of largely unvetted immigrants, with little effort towards integration, stokes fears of communities permanently losing their identity.
Immigration, though rising, is far from the foremost worry for the Irish. Some of their brightest minds continue to leave the country, seeking better opportunities abroad.
The housing crisis looms large, handicapping the youth and crippling job markets, and the universal healthcare system (HSE) is as dysfunctional as it is costly.
Yet, last week's riots are more than a social or economic issue; they reflect a crisis of moral and intellectual dimensions underneath.
Ireland, once steadfast in its cultural identity, has in the last decade adopted every item of the "liberal democracies" starter kit.
Divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage — all in a hurry, as if to secure its place among the wealthy nations of Europe and America. The Irish establishment sees liberal politics as the little glass slipper it has to make fit to be accepted at the global ball.
Once a nation that punched well above its weight in intellectual circles, Ireland appears to have watched its last public intellectual die a quiet death.
Fintan O'Toole, with his geriatric teenager musings; David McWilliams, dispensing WEF platitudes; recent Booker Prize winner Paul Lynch's plots, so childishly simplistic, scarcely merit the dignity of punctuation; and President Michael D. Higgins, whose poetry even The Guardian calls trash.
They are certainly no Shaw, Beckett, Yeats, or Heaney.
Even the not-too-distant days of engaging intellectual discussions on public TV, led by figures like the Dominican Friar Fergal O’Connor, are seemingly lost.
Replaced by a shallow echo chamber, where self-proclaimed experts parrot pre-formed opinions. It's the same as everywhere, only rubber-stamped by the state-owned propaganda machine RTÉ.
It seems Ireland is growing tired of waiting for Godot, the saviour who never comes, having settled for the pusillanimous Triumvirate of Stupidity that now runs the country — an alliance of traditional parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael with the Green Party.
Sinn Féin, a Marxist party with historical ties to the IRA, leads the polls ahead of the 2025 elections. MMA fighter Conor McGregor is fashioning himself into a Trump-like populist alternative. Predictably, the government now investigates him for "hate speech."
Ireland, like a sick man, lies in a bed of uncertainty, its diagnosis perhaps being social, economic, and moral.
But foremost, it’s intellectual.
Cauf Skiviers writes about philosophy, economics, politics, and things that lie between the inconceivable and the undesirable. His reports also appear at: https://cauf.substack.com.
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