A few years back, we had a Taoiseach who blamed US banks for the onset of Ireland’s recession. Bertie Ahern claimed again recently in an interview that it was Lehman Brothers wot dun it, his imputation being that locally elected politicians could not be blamed for this economic crisis. We now know differently. This crisis is global, but, as Enda keeps reminding us, we are in this together. As European politicians try hard not to look like bag men for global banks, here in Ireland we are being force fed rumours about a budget that will, in all likelihood, cut the heart out of a struggling domestic economy. The clusters of half-completed houses around the towns of this State are sufficient reminder of the local effects of this very global crisis. Right now though, we are being asked to get active locally and ‘fix’ our communities.
This involves a redefinition of community around specific business interests. It is little less than a realignment of what is meant by community with the interests of profit. RTÉ is sponsoring an initiative called Local Heroes. Note too the popular calls for the return of ‘older values’; supported by a nostalgic turn in product marketing. Across their platforms, RTÉ is devoting time and effort to showing the rest of us that with the right kind of effort ‘you could help kick-start recovery – enough small changes at local level will have a national effect’. In other words, the effects of the global crisis have nothing to do with your joblessness or the movement of profits out of Ireland, it’s about harnessing a previously-hidden community spirit. As the Local Heroes website makes clear, ‘making common cause with fellow traders can help get the economy off its knees’. After all ‘a thriving local economy profits everyone’ despite the fact that record profits in the 2000s meant that Ireland retained its systemic levels of income inequality.
The recruitment of an elected representative in Senator Fergal Quinn to front this campaign is no accident either. The avuncular senator provides the right balance of local pastoralism and business savvy to help us overcome any conflict we may have about putting in the effort to mitigate the local effects of a globalised crisis. We await the senator’s advice to the people of Ballyhea, Co Cork who, since March, have been coordinating weekly protests drawing attention to the fate of their own lives and its relationship to faceless global banking interests. What Local Heroes (and other initiatives) are trying to do is to externalise the costs of the crisis from those who caused it. Passing the costs of global capitalism off onto local areas is nothing new. It’s just a pity that Quinn and RTÉ cannot remind us of this once in a while.