Ireland's two-edged challenge

By , Paul O'Brien is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin.

The Irish Republic enters the new decade as a land of contradictions. The public sector, periodically crippled by industrial disputes, contrasts strongly with the booming private sector: Irish farmers have begun to buy up land in Britain, reversing an age-old tendency, and one Dublin newspaper reported that an imported Englishm bricklayer was earning an incredible sum per week on an Irish building site.

In Dublin, however, among the fur coats, Jaguars, and other symbols of newfound affluence, ragged, homeless children are a common sight, begging and stealing their way from one cold night to the next. The growth of a pseudo-Georgian suburbia goes hand in hand with the steady demolition of the real thing in the city, while the relaxed Irish life style, so beloved of American mythology, is giving way steadily to the ubiquity of mass culture: television games, a booming punk-rock "scene," the fetishism of material objects.

The widespread adherence to Roman Catholicism, so evident during the visit of Pope John Paul II last September, is being contested more effectively than by centuries of foreign oppression. Now the active agencies are a new materialism/consumerism; the permissiveness of European and Anglo-American society from which, situated as it is, Ireland cannot possibly escape; and the tendency towards rationality and free inquiry which the reception of local and British television has inevitably brought about.

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One contradiction in particular has been observed; it is in the attitude of the government under Premier Haughey towards terrorism. Mr. Haughey has been under a cloud for the last ten years or so owing to his alleged involvement with subversive elements in the confused period around the start of the present "troubles." It is a cloud which his refusal to condemn the Irish Republican Army (up to the time of taking office, when he did indeed condemn it) did nothing to dissipate. He has been accused of politic "fence-sitting," encouraging extremist elements in his republican Fianna Fail party to believe that he secretly favored them, in order to ensure widespread support for his candidacy for the premiership.

There have been signs of both an apparent tendency towards license, and an apparent slide towards repression, where terrorism is concerned. They are symptomatic of a common national phenomenon: a refusal to admit that things might have gone wrong and to correct them.

This is at least partly due to centuries of colonial oppression. It is a dangerous tendency, particularly when it leads, as it does, to a reluctance on the part of journalists and editors to take a clear and unambiguous line on governmental abuses: something which has been particularly evident with reference to the recently aired question of governmental telephone tapping.It is undeniable that a democratic government must be allowed to take effective counterterrorist measures, including adequate surveillance, but this is such a delicate and dangerous area from the point of view of individual liberty that much alertness on the part of the public and the press is needed.

Ireland's developing economic maturity must be balanced by a corresponding political maturity on the part of the press and electorate, if its new found material comforts are to be supplanted by the vastly more precious resource of freedom -- from both official repression and terrorist subversion.

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