Following the Minister Phil Hogan’s declaration that those paying the Household Charge are patriotic, Hannah Dowling looks at what patriotism means in the current economic crisis
“It is morally wrong, unjust and unfair to tax a persons home”. These are not the utterings of a member of opposition, but the words of Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 1994. While undoubtedly the economic situation is drastically different, never let it be said that the present government won’t let irony stand in the way of a good argument. This is coupled with the actions and words of Minister Phil Hogan, who refused to take a solidarity pay cut for the good of the country while calling those who paid the Household Charge patriots. However, the ironies of the situation aside, it has emerged that just under fifty per cent of those eligible to pay the charge did so, which raises the question: along with an economic deficit, does Ireland have a patriotic deficit?
Blandly defined, patriotism is the unwavering love and support for one’s country. Similar to concepts such as justice and liberty, patriotism is an idea shrouded in romantic imagery. But is it more patriotic to obey your government or defy it?
Blind patriotism is dangerous to democracy as it allows corrupt and unjust leaders to rule without question. Indeed, blind patriotism corrupts; absolute blind patriotism corrupts absolutely. It should be a citizen’s duty to question and defy a government when it is acting against the wishes of its people. Therefore, it is not unpatriotic to stand up for something you believe in that goes against the policies your government espouses. If patriotism is acting to protect the ideals of your country, then it is not unpatriotic to defy your government when you believe it is betraying these ideals. As George McGovern wrote, “the highest patriotism is not blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher standard.” Patriotism is about protecting the moral basis of a country, such as freedom, truth, and respect for human beings and their dignity. All of these are the cornerstones of democracy and are above the jurisdiction of government.
When addressing patriotism in the narrower scope of the recent household charge, there are two sides to the debate. The charge was designed as a short-term solution to a long-term problem. It is not a litmus test of a citizen’s sense of patriotism. Those who paid the charge are as well intentioned as those who didn’t. However, it also has to be acknowledged that many of those who paid the charge did so out of fear of what would happen if they did not, but the majority of the country’s citizens made their opposition to the charge clear and did not pay. Instead, stories have come out that families have been using the €100 to spend on necessities or expenditure such as their children’s exam fees. A campaign led by Today FM encouraged listeners to donate their money to the financially vulnerable Crumlin Hospital instead of paying the charge.
The actions on both sides of the debate by citizens cannot be criticised as they have acted in the way that they saw fit, and in their views, in the best interests of the country. The real culprits in this debacle have been the government. Cut off from the realities of the day-to-day struggles its citizens face, they continue to impose more and more burdens on the public, while refusing to share the cost. From Ministers Hogan to Alan “get a life” Shatter, it is obvious that they are removing themselves from the problems the public face under the guise of saving Ireland’s future. It is no wonder that the public are now finally taking it upon themselves to defy, in a loud and reasoned way, that they are no longer willing to accept the burden alone.
While they may be portrayed as breaking the law, those who refused to pay the charge were protesting against the inequalities of our political system, a system that is not working. In this broken political hierarchy the government have shown very little patriotism and solidarity. The Irish people showed true patriotism in defying a political system where, in the words of Bob Dylan, “they say patriotism is the last refuge, to which a scoundrel clings, steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you a king.”