- 14 Jun 21
A penny for our thoughts on Tony Holohan's recent hotly debated tweet about being "shocked" at scenes of young people partying al fresco? Nah, you can have 'em for free!
What, you wonder, does it take to absolutely shock Ireland's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan? Would it be people sleeping rough in doorways? Or perhaps adults on the verge of middle age still living at home with parents?
Might it be absentee landlords racking rents from the underpaid and leaving apartments empty rather than letting them at a viable rent?
Or maybe it would be the wretched history of cervical smears in Ireland, the battles over the National Maternity Hospital or the catastrophic miscalculations of the National Children's Hospital? Or the pandemic shambles that saw so many people in care settings succumb?
Would his absolute shock be an appropriate response to the economic turmoil in small businesses across the country and the enormous public debt arising from lockdowns?
How about high levels of suicide in Ireland? Or the mental health issues arising from the lockdowns? Or that up to 2,000 invasive cancers may have been missed last year due to the impact of Covid-19?
One could go on and on, listing absolutely shocking pandemic and health-related scandals and failures in Ireland. Literally on and on.
But no, it's none of these. On the last Saturday in May, Holohan tweeted that he was "absolutely shocked" at scenes he witnessed in Dublin city centre on Saturday evening where crowds of young people gathered as if for a "major open air party".
Yes, there was misbehaviour. Well, no ID cards were required. Drink was taken and, though the sainted Doctor wouldn't have seen it, drugs were taken too. And afterwards there was a lot of litter.
Reaction was swift and vengeful. Holohan's absolute shock wasn't tweeted to the streets. His target audience was the Government via the compliant media which, of course, duly obliged, joined as usual by self-righteous Twitterati.
Immediately, Geoff Pearson's wonderfully titled Hooligan: A History Of Respectable Fears (1983) came to mind, a sociology text now regarded as one of the seven 'iconic' studies in British criminology.
It shows that fear of young people has a lengthy history and that political and media interest in bad behaviour takes on a life of its own. Pearson's also good on moral panics.
So Holohan and his 'absolutely shocked' devotees are simply the latest in a very long line of 'respectable people' tut-tutting in a superior manner about bad behaviour. When the inevitable study of young people and the pandemic is written it might well be titled Holohan: The Voice Of Respectable Fears.
STONED AND DRUNK
Hooligan examined an idea that took root in Victorian Britain. The Oirishness of the term isn't an accident. Most regrettably, the majority of our public health officials still kow-tow to the views of respectable and evangelising British Victorians on the Irish and their socialising, especially where drink is involved.
But it's 2021 now and we're supposed to do things differently. Like treating adults as adults and keeping our agreements. You know, like we expect the Brits to operate the Northern Ireland Protocol, since they negotiated it?
In this vein, look at the bargain made with young people when we locked down for the first time back in March 2020.
It goes like this: in order to save our health system from collapse we need you to abide by the public health guidelines, stay at home, live online, mask up, keep your distance, eschew all the natural instincts and norms of youth, accept the unemployment and isolation, the educational famine, the loss of sports and the death of dancing, gigs and festivals. If you do so, we'll get out of this asap and everything will be rosy once again and you can have them all back.
Fifteen months later it's clear that, with a few exceptions, young people kept their side of the bargain. Indeed, just a month ago in his pastoral encyclical, aka 'open letter', to the people of Ireland, Tony Holohan praised the sacrifices people have made over the past year, and said that "Now is the time to move forward, to go outdoors and to see one another again."
There you go! A nod's as good as a wink, eh?!
But when the citizens – that is, the voters and taxpayers – were out and about and seeing one another again he goes and expresses absolute shock! Notwithstanding the posters all over the place encouraging one and all to have an "outdoor summer"!?!?
Listen buddy, that shoe is on the wrong foot. Absolute shock at the hauteur of the well-heeled and ample-arsed elite would be more in order! And you know, in the welter of outrage it didn't occur to the finger-waggers that a boisterous good time at the start of summer is a rite of passage for young Irish people.
Of course, in a normal year they'd be getting stoned and drunk in Magaluf or Santa Ponza or wherever the tribal grapevine decreed, but because it's far away everyone can pretend it's nothing to worry about and certainly not with their children.
By the way, and for the record, it's not just those whom the absolutely shocked respectable people might deem hooligans. The offspring of the haute bourgeoisie – the doctors and lawyers of tomorrow – go as mad as the rest. But in 2021 they're stuck in Ireland doing it all in plain sight and on multiple platforms.
Well, if respectable Irish society doesn't like it they shouldn't look. Either that or let them go abroad to blow the hormones and pretend it's not happening. Then you won't have to be absolutely shocked.
KICK OUT THE JAMS
Meanwhile, in Ireland, shouldn't we be keeping open spaces actually open so everyone isn't sardined? And putting in proper refuse and toilet facilities?
Ah, but there's the rub: a tender for public toilets in Dublin is still at "expressions of interest" stage, at time of writing. In parallel, the City Council, as with other local authorities, is issuing plans right, left and centre for outdoor living! It'd make you weep.
Does the left hand even know the right hand?
Oh dear. Elsewhere in Europe, where hanging out in public spaces is the norm, they have systems in place to deal with aftermaths, like the small army of refuse collectors and pavement sprayers you see in Brussels and Paris should you be out and about early in the morning, as some of us no doubt hope to be soon.
The trouble is, that sort of European rationality will always falter in the face of the considerable resources public health grandees and tut-tutters can muster in opposition. Down with this sort of thing, they'll say, not in my back yard.
But that cuts two ways. As the vaccines roll out and the days grow longer and warmer, an increasing number of us are growing very weary indeed of the lectures, the caution, the controls, the self-promotion, the hauteur.
The bell is tolling for absolute shock. Prepare to kick out the jams...