This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
It’s lunchtime at a quiet bar and restaurant by Dublin’s River Liffey, and a man in his 30s walks in holding a copy of his résumé. He wants to leave it for management to look over.
“Sorry, waste of time,” the server says bluntly, raising her hand two feet off the counter. “I’ve résumés up to here behind the bar.”
The whole exchange takes maybe ten seconds, but the surrounding silence makes it an awkward one. As the man shuffles out, the expressions of the few patrons are full of sympathy, but not surprise. They soon turn back to their food.
Just a few years after the death of Ireland’s famous “Celtic Tiger” economy, Dublin is a different place. For the majority, it’s a lot harder to catch a break.
On this quiet December Tuesday, talk is dominated by the following day’s water charges protest, and how a €3 per week payment will bring tens of thousands onto the streets. In the free-wheeling days of a decade ago, many would have laughed at the idea. This, however, is a changed country.
In 2008, as Irish banks faced collapse, a calamitous blanket bank guarantee was agreed, which in turn had necessitated a €67-billion EU-IMF bailout by 2010. Years of pain followed, as taxpayer money was used to prop up speculators who had fueled a giant property-based bubble.
Since the implosion, Ireland has endured round after round of maddening austerity, but to the surprise of many, this inner anger hasn’t translated into rage in the streets, as it has elsewhere in Europe.
The official line is that this patience and understanding is now being rewarded. The country has since exited the bailout, and there are signs that a corner has been turned. Unemployment is at 11.3 percent, down from a high of 14.7 percent in 2012. It may even drop to around 9.7 percent this year. After surviving a series of regressive budgets, the country is back on its feet.
Yet now, after years of simply “getting on with it,” it looks as if a new plan to charge Irish residents some €160 per year for water could finally be the drop that spills the cup.
Almost from nowhere, people are digging in as the Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition government attempts to impose new water treatment and consumption charges on the public. Rallies are ongoing against the new semi-state body Irish Water, set up to satisfy EU-IMF demands.