Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Whineline is open

From today's Evening Herald

By Susan Daly

What a bunch of old moaners we are. According to a survey of 4,000 Europeans, the Irish are second only to the British in the whining stakes.

We spend a total of nine-and-a-half hours a week complaining about work and the weather and everything in between. Losing out to the Brits for the top spot is just one more thing to whinge about.

But good for us. As far as I'm concerned, we don't bitch loudly or frequently enough. This is the age of anxiety: we fear for our jobs, for our health, for the fate of penguins in the South Pole.


We worry that our kids are eating too much sugar and watching too much TV. If it rains too much, we are concerned about apocalyptic floods. If it is too sunny, we live in trepidation of the council's water-saving measures.

The best way to alleviate such stress levels is to have a good old-fashioned bitch. As a national pastime, there is nothing quite like complaining to give the country a sense of solidarity. Ah sure, at least we're all in it together.

And there is such a thing as constructive criticism. One good thing to come out of the Celtic Tiger was that we all sharpened our claws a little. Our newly-minted consumer power gave us the confidence to pipe up when something wasn't up to scratch.

For too long, the Irish culture of griping was confined to smiling politely on the outside while making up strongly-worded letters in our head that we never sent. Our favourite adjective? Fine. Everything was 'fine', wrapped in a blanket of 'grand'. Or as the little guy at the controls in our brain would say: 'It is rubbish, actually, but I don't want to make a show of myself by complaining.'

Now we are so good at complaining that the Government has made it official by giving us a Consumers' Ombudsman, a Garda Ombudsman, a Children's Ombudsman, a Financial Services Ombudsman and yes, even a Press Ombudsman. Joe Duffy's RTE Radio One show has been unkindly dubbed 'Whineline', but it is a powerful medium for the voice of a public that for years had nowhere else to be heard.

Silence is not golden for this country. On the most serious note possible, silence is what allowed the gut-wrenching abuses by members of the Catholic Church to go unchallenged for decades. Few complained and those who did were told to shut up and put up, or punished for their audacity.

Rest assured that many knew that children who were banished to certain institutions were not being treated well. Last week's report on the abuse confirmed that plenty of people -- other clerics for example -- stood by and watched as another, more debauched, colleague vented their rage on little children.

Paedophiles were simply moved on to other institutions, other parishes, other victims. It is said that what is required for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing. Evil men and women flourished here like hothouse blooms. So it is good news that the Irish have found their dissenting voice.

The survey does, however, point out that our favourite bug- bears are the traffic, our work colleagues and weather. What we need to do is harness our dissent into principled protests. Save it for the bigger issues when that politician comes to your doorstep looking for a vote. Ask who among them is going see that victims of abuse are truly compensated. Tell members of the ruling party what you think of them instead of ignoring the doorbell. It will feel great -- I promise.

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