May the Force pay the Old Bill?

I was down in Galway a few weeks ago to appear on television arguing the ‘No’ side of the Presidential age referendum. That turned out to be good fun – especially scaring the colour out of my friends’ faces when I told them I was arguing for the ‘No’ side as detailed here.

It turned out to be an interesting debate and I was wowed by the professionalism and attention to detail shown by the UTV staff. They really do an excellent job in directing the debate and keeping it relevant and balanced.

So I finished up around 10.30 and went for a drink with the ‘opposition’ – a final year law student from Galway. It was a rainy, miserable night in Galway, but all the hotels were full. My reservation got lost and I ended up visiting hotel after hotel looking for a room. On a Monday.

Finally, I got a room at the Connaght Hotel, so when I had finished chatting to my debate counterpart, I headed back there. UTV had agreed to pay my hotel bill, so I thought I’d have another drink at the hotel.

I went into the bar and found it hopping. There must have been a couple of hundred people in the bar and the noise levels and general bonhomie indicated that the party was well under way.

So I made my way through the throng and asked the barman if (a) I could have a pint (it was after closing, but not for guests) and (b) if I could charge it to my room, and therefore the good people at UTV.

The barman brought me the drink and then added mysteriously “The Force?”

Now, many times I have dreamed of having the power of a Jedi Knight and being able to bend a barman’s will to mine. And then, as the expression goes, ‘I wake up’. But in this case, I had no need to allow verbal confusion to reign as I already had a sponsor for my evening.

So I said: “No. I’d just like to charge this beer to my room”

“Yes,” he said “but are you with them,” nodding in the direction of the crowd of revelers.

“No,” I again replied, “are you having a Star Wars convention?”

“No,” he answered. “They’re all with the ‘Force'”.

So I looked around at the 250 or so people in the bar – mainly men aged between 25 and 40 and realised that I was completely surrounded by policemen and women.

This is not a good crowd for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I have great respect for policemen and policewomen, it’s just that in a room full of them, I tend to get a bit nervous. Not that I’m the criminal type, particularly, it’s just that they can arrest me, while I can’t do the same in reverse. Especially if there’s 250 of them and only one of me.

I was more intrigued by the words ‘the force’. They’re not the words we citizens use to describe the Gardai. But they are the words that the Gardai use. To each other, they’re the ‘force’. The thin blue line and all that.

So, somewhere along the way the barman stopped using those words and began to use the Garda nomenclature. 250 Guards in a room will do that to you. And the words, of course, define the event and the attitude. George Orwell knew this well. If you don’t have a word for it, you can’t describe it, praise it or object to it.

All of those present were in a great mood, however, and your correspondent was never in peril. They were delighted with what they called their ‘first real overtime in years’ and were looking forward to a night in the Connacht, a union meeting and a relatively easy gig the following day.

The ‘force’ was there to protect Prince Charles and obviously, they were successful in that. But it made me think about the verbally disappeared. Those that don’t have a name get forgotten, and things that don’t have a name don’t get done.

There is a ‘force’ that runs things. It can roll out the overtime if it wants. It can do most anything. It can give €64 billion away in an evening and it can use that as an excuse for inequality and austerity.

Compared to that ‘force’ the Jedi Knights were mere foot-soldiers.

We live in a world that is desperately trying to get rid of the foot-soldiers. Where there were once jobs, there are internships. Where there was once job security, now contract work, part-time work and freelance work are the norms.

Except, of course for those who already have a State-guaranteed gig. Like ‘Prince’ Charles.

There is a force that runs through our society that protects its own and pays lip service to democratic ideas and principles. People follow this force without even realising that they are doing so. It’s about ‘getting the young fella into the Guards’ or some other part of the civil service – sometimes inheriting a Daíl seat. The very same people espouse the greatest democratic principles in public, but their real world is dominated by this other ‘force’ that drives them to bend the rules when personal interest is concerned.

And that force is so prevalent and pervasive that we no longer notice it when it happens. It is, in an Irish phrase, part of what we are.

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