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The so-called urban/rural divide is nothing but fodder for populist politicians
I am not sure if the term ‘Rural Ireland’ is doing anybody any favours. There are rural matters, of course, and rural medicine and even rustic gates but I think the term ‘Rural Ireland’ has outlived any usefulness it ever had. It is now used as a term to emphasise a perceived difference between an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ that does nobody except populist politicians any good.
We are a small island, with a mere five million inhabitants. We would be swallowed up by an area of China that hardly any of us has ever heard of. Your average Parisian thinks we are all charmingly uncultured bog-trotters, and even mighty Dublin would disappear easily into an American city.
But never mind the world view of us. We are good at divisions in Ireland. It used to be said that the first item in any Irish group formed was the split. Up to a few years ago, we continued to fight out the Reformation. There was little difference between the white Christians of one group or the other but we used it as an excuse for murder, discrimination and havoc. That division is still used for political capital. If the war-weary citizens of the North or South try to move on, some jingoistic politician will be ready to shout ‘no surrender!’ or ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá!’
It is a well-known political ploy. If you want to know where urban versus rural debate gets you, remember that the Nazis blamed Jews, foreigners and jazz musicians for the state of the country. They invented fears and used stereotypes and caricatures to make their targets seem inhuman. The Brexit campaign showed pictures of dark-skinned hordes assembling in Calais and used the comic book imagery that most of us grew up with to discriminate against refugees. They forgot that Captain Hurricane and the Tommies in the comics had been risking their lives to fight the jackboot of the oppressor and the bully.
At the time of writing, the general election is in full swing. On social media, vicious attacks are launched on the Green Party. It is stated with great authority that they want to introduce wolves to Ireland, take away your cows, steal your cars and anything else the author can come up with. Such are the joys of social media. If you misinterpreted, misquoted and lied about a politician in a newspaper, you would be sued.
If they would slow down for a minute, they would see that farmers are getting completely ripped-off by the beef producers and multinational supermarkets. The taxpayer — both urban and rural — and the EU are propping-up the whole system and the middle-men are hoovering up the profits. A switch to a sustainable way of living would suit everyone, in a system where farmers are rewarded for stewardship for the land, biodiversity and carbon sequestering and produce high-quality food that does not need to be imported.
Then, when the gombeen men have turned the people against ‘elite’ and the ‘Jackeens telling us what to do’, they turn on anybody with an informed opinion.
They listen to nobody except themselves. If a schoolteacher has lived in an area an entire lifetime, and they are profoundly acquainted with the wildlife and the politics and the lifestyle of that area, they are shouted down because they are not farmers. Indeed, they have to be traditional farmers, and because they drive the boreens in enormous tractors, they are deemed to be experts on waterways and hedges and trees, while the real expert is shouted down.
These parish-pump populist politicians are not embodying the wishes or energies of the people, but their own failing and weaknesses to move with the times. They cling to a false idea that life outside a city is completely different. Other politicians in city areas stoke up hatred against farmers and their subsidies and, again, the elite.
It is a universal problem, from ‘we have had enough of experts’ to ‘we should look after our own first’ (always said by those who look after nobody except themselves).
Make no mistake, rural Ireland is not a quaint little place from a John Hinde postcard with bawneen jumpers and donkeys. There are hard drugs and organised crime in any village in the west (just watch The Hardy Bucks — an accurate portrayal of small-town life if there ever was one). Dublin has its urban farms, fruit-growers and rooftop beekeepers.
We are all in this dying, polluted planet together. It is time to ditch the stereotypes and get on with surviving.