Michael Moynihan: Real community involvement can counteract society’s problems

Chatting to people on Leeside about what happened in Dublin revealed some interesting attitudes
Michael Moynihan: Real community involvement can counteract society’s problems

A counter-protest organised by Cork Rebels for Peace gathered in solidarity with library staff, outside the Cork City Library, Grand Parade, in opposition to the 'Cork Says NO' protest rally against refugees and trans-rights. Picture: Larry Cummins

Readers will be aware that Irish writer Paul Lynch won the Booker Prize last weekend for his novel Prophet Song, and it wasn’t long before people weighed in with an obvious comparison.

Lynch’s novel of a future Ireland taken over by a fascist government seemed to have a real-life parallel to the rioting in Dublin last Thursday after schoolchildren and their carer were stabbed in Parnell Square.

First, a speedy recovery to those injured in the attack and best wishes to those who subdued the assailant. That’s the most important message.

Regarding the riots, pick your way past those happy to set the fire before trying to signal their distance from the resulting blaze. And those happy to move their snobbery from covert to overt after the rioting. Those bad takes contribute nothing.

For another perspective, chatting to people on Leeside about what happened in Dublin revealed some interesting attitudes.

 Gardaí on Dublin's O'Connell Street during the riot in the city centre.
 Gardaí on Dublin's O'Connell Street during the riot in the city centre.

One school of thought ran to ‘well, that’s Dublin, what do you expect?’, a notion promoted by more people than I expected. Clearly, their experience of the capital must be limited to the odd concert or sports event. Or watching Love/Hate, maybe.

Granted, the recent spate of attacks in Dublin lends credence to that view. We did have the sight of the Minister for Justice leading a not-at-all-staged walkabout in Dublin city centre after some tourists were attacked, trying to create the impression that an after-hours stroll around O’Connell Street was comparable to walking the Athens of Pericles.

In reality, Dublin has the threat level one expects in cities of comparable size all over Europe, even if you can hear people eulogise cities on the continent which apparently enjoy crime levels comparable to Brigadoon or 'Glocca Morra'.

Another obvious point is that Dublin has no monopoly when it comes to ominous urban areas in Ireland. For a small consideration, I can give readers the name of the small town where I had a very grim encounter many years ago, but suffice to say it was nowhere near the capital.


The more worrisome side of the ‘that’s Dublin for you’ argument, of course, is the ‘that could never happen here’ argument. The ‘we’re different down here’ policy position. The ‘we’re better than that’ hypothesis.

Suggesting a riot like last week’s could never happen in Cork, for instance, sounds like presumptuous complacency to these ears, with complacency the key term. 

To make matters worse, that complacency is not generated by ignorance, which might be remedied, but by acceptance, which is more insidious

 Acceptance of events and realities which would once have been unthinkable but which have now been normalised and absorbed into mainstream life.

This is where Paul Lynch re-enters the narrative. It was interesting to see the novelist mention this sense of normalising the unimaginable when discussing his book.

“The question I asked myself was, ‘Why don’t I feel this more than I should?’,” Lynch told The Guardian.

Paul Lynch kisses the trophy after being named as the winner of the 2023 Booker Prize.
Paul Lynch kisses the trophy after being named as the winner of the 2023 Booker Prize.

“I started to think about how I’m desensitised by the news. Even now, watching TV, we’re starting to switch off from the Middle East in the same way we switched off from Ukraine. It’s inevitable.

“If we were to truly take on the enormity of the world and its horrors, we would not be able to get out of bed in the morning.”

For the record, Lynch was referring to images of Syrian refugees, but his point is widely applicable. Repeated exposure to appalling images dulls the impact of those images and inures the viewer to the reality they represent.

One doesn't need images of war and conflict to do so, either. Is it shocking or realistic — or both — to say that we have accepted the sight of homelessness now on the streets of Cork? That we have normalised the images of children in tents on the streets, that the sight of someone furled in a sleeping bag near one’s workplace barely registers?

Drugs crisis

That acceptance is not confined to the homeless situation, either. There was a time in decades past when heroin was seen as a problem more or less confined to Dublin when it was unthinkable that somewhere like Cork would also be ravaged by the drug. Now there are hundreds of heroin addicts in Cork, and the results of the drug’s spread can be seen in the court reports of this newspaper every day.

This column is not in the business of demonising people in the grip of addiction, nor is it the aim of this column to blame those people for society’s ills. It is in the business of pointing out that people injecting hard drugs openly in the city centre is a problem, while deaths in Cork from drug overdoses are an appalling tragedy.

Yet these phenomena have been normalised, accepted, and subsumed into general complacency. Part of modern life. Part of getting around Cork in 2023.

There are other markers of the new reality to be found. In recent months in Cork, there have been repeated attempts to intimidate those working in local libraries, for instance.

The old ‘if you were told twenty years ago that...‘ thought experiment is not always applicable, but it is here. 

A time traveller telling people in 2003 that Cork City Library would be closed after far-right protesters hung a banner across the building would be met with stunned silence

And a question — eventually — about how long it took the gardaí to fire those protesters into the river.

To be fair, the acceptance and complacency were interrupted here. When library staff in Cork were being harassed ordinary citizens acted. Hundreds of people marched through the streets of the city in support of the librarians, demonstrating a commitment to the city and to the basic values of decency and solidarity.

That is not complacency. It is the very opposite. It shows that there are people who have a commitment to society and who do not take the pillars of that society for granted, which is encouraging. There are groups who work in the areas mentioned above, of course. Organisations such as the Simon Community and SHARE are trying to make a difference; so is the HSE with its plans for a supervised injection facility in Cork, in fairness.

All of those organisations need a community to operate in, and community is the antidote to complacency and acceptance. A community means action, as Alice Taylor said in this paper: “We took community for granted before, it was just there, but now we have to be conscious of preserving it. It is a community that keeps a village alive and you have to be prepared to get involved.

“If you move into a small village or town or indeed anywhere, if you stay behind your closed door and don’t come out and participate, well, you will be left there. It can be very lonely if you are on your own. It is all about reaching out and connection.”

Takes a Cork woman to spell it out. But it takes all of us to put it into practice. Everywhere.

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