It was the Skibbereen, or West Cork Eagle newspaper, that solemnly told Lord Palmerston that it had "got its eye both upon him and on the Emperor of Russia." This terrible warning has elevated the little insignificant town of Skibbereen, in the southwest coast of Ireland, quite into a Lilliputian pre-eminence. Beware, beware, ye statesmen, emperors, and thrones, for the Skibbereen Eagle has its eye upon you!
The Skibbereen Eagle, a local West Cork newspaper became famous by declaring in an 1897 editorial that it was "keeping an eye on the Tsar of Russia" over his expansionist designs on China. Over a century later the spirit of the Skibbereen Eagle lingers on in on-line discussion forums all over the Internet. The bulletin board at www.castlebar.ie is no exception.
The US military campaign in Iraq has provoked huge debate. Every detail has been passionately analysed by the public. Suddenly we are all experts on human rights, the root causes of terrorism, military tactics, imperialism, Islamic fundamentalism and the oil conspiracy.
It is right to highlight these issues but I think we have gone overboard. If we put as much passion and energy into things that affect us directly, then maybe we could get somewhere. We have enough problems of our own that are within our power to solve without having to travel the world solving everyone else's.
A new group called West On Track was formed recently to campaign for the reopening of the western railway line linking Sligo to Galway. It is a worthwhile cause. The country is hopelessly lob sided. Dublin and its hinterland are overcrowded while the towns and villages of the west of Ireland are struggling to maintain their population levels. A functioning public transport network is a crucial step to redressing this balance.
West On Track has an uphill battle. The recent Strategic Rail Review does not even consider the Sligo-Galway line. Indeed, they go as far as to recommend that some higher profile lines already in operation should be abandoned because there are not enough people in the towns along those lines to make them viable.
This is the classic chicken-and-egg situation that we are faced with daily in the west. We cannot build a transport infrastructure because there are no people to support it. The people aren't here because there is no transport infrastructure to support them. We cannot create sustainable jobs because the people aren't here. The people aren't here because there are no jobs.
This problem is not insurmountable but it requires decisive action.
But it seems that people would rather debate about issues that have little relevance to their every day lives and over which they have no control instead of getting involved with something that might involve a little effort and a little risk. Perhaps there is a satisfaction to be gained from discussing issues that are beyond our influence. Since we cannot change anything we can't be proved wrong. Since the issue doesn't affect us in any tangible way we risk nothing.
West On Track is a case in point. While posts on the bulletin board relating to Iraq generate huge responses regurgitating the same arguments over and over, the post drawing attention to the West On Track campaign generated no response.
The apathy of the people is disheartening. The proposed actions of West On Track don't inspire much confidence either but at least they're doing something. They propose that we petition the Minister of Transport, sponsor poster campaigns and --with unintentional irony-- display stickers of support on our cars.
But if we're relying on petitions and car stickers we're going to get nowhere. The government is not listening. They'll drop by in five years to collect their votes, we'll politely oblige and send them off for another five years. That's how it works and that's how it's been for as long as I can remember.
Get 5000 people to pledge that they will not vote for the government unless they have the railway in place by the next election. If we get the line --and not a promise-- they get the vote, no questions asked. If not then we vote for anybody else, most likely the Natural Law party.
Follow through on the pledge. Then they will listen.
We are told that voting changes nothing and we actually believe it. We believe it enough to leave the same politicians in power year after year while they continually shrug their shoulders and turn their backs on us. We don't have much to lose by losing them.
We have a choice. We can change things here or we can keep our heads stuck in the sands of Iraq. It's up to us.
About the Author
The author has vast experience of the troubled spots of the world. He currently resides in one of Saddam's abandoned palaces south of Baghdad. There he mediates between US forces and Shia militias as they work together to rebuild the shattered city. Thanks to the author's efforts Baghdad already has a public transport system that would be 'the envy of any western European city.' If that city happens to be Dublin, that is.