Just before 30,000 young people took to the streets in the largest student protest of their generation, my flatmate, also a student, hung a banner out the window. It read "We Write The Future". We all write the future, but none more so than a generation who have largely been ignored, disregarded and are now condemned either to unemployment or emigration. This is the moment we stopped confusing apathy with disaffection.
Last week began with a completely idiotic protest, an Éirígí councillor chucking paint on Mary Harney, which did nothing apart from provide a gift to subeditors on the tabloids the next day. Éirígí was there again at the student protest, along with the Socialist Workers Party. They are to protests what liggers are to launch parties, turning up constantly unwanted, hanging around, not getting the message that it's not their party. Both groups were instrumental in disrupting what was a peaceful protest. There is no doubt that those involved in causing aggravation at the tail end of the protest were completely wrong. But this protest took place in a context different to previous ones, a context of heightened emotions, anger, desperation, solidarity, determination.
Watching the TV footage, it was impossible to condone many of the gardaí's actions. They stood in rows, batons drawn, shields at the ready, as mounted gardaí assembled behind them. They bashed heads, bloodied noses. None of the protestors were armed or wearing protective clothing, yet even when they were sitting on the ground, the fully Robocopped gardaí saw fit to beat them with batons, knee them, and drag them across the ground by their hair. Eventually, by the time the protestors had reached Anglo Irish Bank on St Stephen's Green, gardaí on horses, again without warning, charged the crowd who were simply making their way back to where they came from. They were backed up by charging gardaí on foot and armoured garda vans.
It was a totally disproportionate response, an ugly, unfair and unprofessional method of controlling a crowd that the gardaí should be truly ashamed of. These kids have been mown down by the state and when they try to make their voices heard what happens? They are mown down by the police. Eventually, two people were charged with minor offences. That means that 0.0066% of those involved in the protest actually broke the law.
The issues behind the protest have been lost in the melee. This was about free education as a practical issue and also as an ideal. The lack of foresight in thinking that these problems will be solved by ramping up registration fees is astounding. There seems to be no interest in assessing the possibilities of means testing, a loans system or examining the corrupt grants system. Just whack up registration fees and hope people pay; act bluntly now, think vaguely later - the philosophy of our government.
People talk about students having a sense of entitlement. But the sense of entitlement to a job and a disposable income is slightly less intolerable than the sense of entitlement the real trouble makers on Kildare Street have. Students aren't a demographic that enamour themselves to the rest of the population. Their middle-class accents permeate vox pops on RTé radio, with 'likes' and 'bullshits', 'totallys' and 'whatevers' greeted with eyerolls by those who apparently know better. Their enthusiasm tends to be squashed by cynicism.
I had arguments with people last week online and offline about the value of protest. What's the point; sure nothing is going to change, some said. That attitude seems ridiculous to me. Isn't the reluctance to be involved in democracy – not expressing your opinions, lapsing on being a watchdog to this government – isn't it that lax attitude which made many of us (and not all, as we are told over and over again, but many) complicit in some of the economic terrors we are now facing? Plenty of people might slag off students for marching, but at least the students are doing something. What are you doing?
The failure of our democratic process to be fair and the failure of our politicians to communicate or listen has created a vacuum within which groups like Éirígí grow. Moderate voices need to be heard the loudest, and those are the voices of the students who didn't resort to scrappy behaviour. These are the people who will be shaping this country. Listen to them. We can't afford not to.
On Wednesday I finally received a letter from the archdiocese of Dublin informing me that my "de facto" defection from the Catholic church was being recorded in its new register now that you can't actually defect thanks to a change in canon law. De facto: "in practice or actuality, but without being officially established". Would prefer a real defection.
In a rain-sodden week of bad news there was one stand-out moment of brilliance: Gareth Bale's electrifying performance for Spurs against Inter. Now and then one is compelled to applaud, head shaking, from the couch, and Bale provided so many opportunities to do that. Even as a United fan, I turned them off to watch Bale do his thing.
Groundbreaking Irish theatre company THISISPOPBABY has announced its second annual Queer Notions festival for the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar, Dublin 2. The programme describes the theme of the festival as "Glorious Outsiders. Bold Investigation. Riotous Fun." Details and tickets are at www.projectartscentre.ie/queernotions.
Are you allowed to like the art of a murderer? Amanda Knox's jail cell self-portraits certainly are intriguing. Best headline about them has to go to Sky News: "Knox's Paintings May Reveal Sinister Side". Well, yes, that and the whole 'murder' thing.