Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I sort of naively thought that, Ireland being an English-speaking country, it would sort of be like living in a different state of the US, like moving to the deep south. I figured, ok, people will talk differently, act differently, in a quirky sort of way. But at the root of it, I didn't think much of how Irish values would differ from those I'd been brought up with, whether I'd grown to buck them or not.

However, the differences in the two countries' governments, I think, are really at the heart of what makes me truly, truly feel like a foreigner here, more than my accent or the fact that I say "Excuse me," instead of "I'm sorry," when I'm trying to squeeze by someone in a tight grocery story aisle, or that I still don't understand the differences between rugby, gaelic football, and football (aka soccer). First, there is the lack of separation of church and state. I know that America fails on this account sometimes, especially when anyone named Bush is in office. But it's there in our Constitution to fight for if we so choose. When I first arrived here, Mark explained to me a big news story about a woman who had been molested for years by the Head Teacher of the Catholic school she went to. She was recently taking legal action against the government for what had happened to her. The Church said it was nothing to do with them; it was the Department of Education's deal. The Dept. of Ed claimed no responsibility. But here's the thing: back home, if you go to Catholic school, it's because you paid for it. All public schools provided by the government are secular. But here, at the time of this woman's childhood, if you wanted a secular school, you had to pay for it. So this woman had no choice but to go to that Catholic school. If she didn't, she would have had a truancy officer coming to her house. To me, that is the most backwards thing I've ever heard, with or without the molesting Head Teacher. It went all the way to the Supreme Court. The woman made it clear that the case wasn't for money, but for someone to take responsibility for what happened to her as a child. Where is the accountability? But if the government takes responsibility and says, "What happened to you shouldn't have happened and you shouldn't have been made to go to that school," then it apparently makes a statement that they are unwilling to make. Which is terribly sad and makes this country look spineless and unevolved. And then do you know what they did on top of it it? They claimed damages against her for court costs. Talk about insult to injury.

Mark and I just finished listening to a radio program that completely incensed us both. It was about (what else?) the employment situation here and the amount of foreigners working and on the dole. Because of the high unemployment rates, people in Ireland and the UK are absolutely rabid about foreigners "taking up" their jobs. Never mind that the jobs they are "taking" are statistically for very specifically trained, higher-educated positions. Never mind that this is what being part of the EU is about. Ireland is part of the EU so that there *can* be a free exchange of the work force. Irish workers enjoy the like freedom to travel to other countries, which they do, and work there. Which is a point no one seems to bring up here. It's just conveniently forgotten about the thousands of Irish workers that go to other places and get work and benefits. The radio show featured a man from the Department of Social Welfare who cheerfully outlined how many foreign countries have people on the dole in Ireland, and specifically which ones have large numbers (and what those numbers are). What is the point of that? Just so you know who you can be angry at when you get the misguided notion that foreigners are bleeding all the tax dollars? He pointed out that the numbers of people with large immigrant groups coming here, from, say, Poland and China, have gone down by a very large margin. There was another man on there who was talking about how great it will be when Ireland makes it more difficult for people to immigrate here. Like that is going to solve all the problems. Some people here think that sealing off the country and keeping benefits away from non-nationals is going to solve the economic crisis. From what I've read in the want ads, not with the current work force it's not. And reading the statistics of how many Irish hold higher education degrees versus the rest of Europe, they need to do a much better job at educating their population if they want key industries to grow. People want the rules of the EU bent for them, just because things are rough. Well, it just doesn't work that way.

There's another case in the news of a woman seeking asylum here to prevent her daughters from undergoing genital mutilation in her country of origin. She already had one daughter undergo the procedure and die from it. Apparently after pleading for years, Ireland was just about to kick her out when the EU stepped in and said they couldn't kick her out until the case was reviewed by them. Of all the people who get to come here, here's someone with a legitimate reason for coming over, and they were just going to bounce her out on her ass. And so she's waiting and hoping. You would think that public support for this woman, who, by the way, is gorgeous, and so are her children, would be overwhelming. I think if she were white she'd have her own reality TV show by now. But because she's a black asylum seeker, no one seems to have the appropriate amount of compassion for her, in my opinion. It appears to be an inherent mistrust, or else she would have her asylum and be living comfortably by now without fear for future and those of her children.

And maybe this is something I understand, being from a place that is part of a union -- you live in a State, a part, that is a piece of the whole, the Country. The negotiation between the two is awkward sometimes. And sometimes the larger governing body decides stuff that the parts don't jibe with. But that's the way the cookie crumbles if you want to reap the benefits of being part of the larger mass. But Ireland should give its rampant bigotry and racism if it wants to be accepted by the international community.

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