Fintan O’Toole, Isaiah and Ghost Estates

Fintan O’Toole writing in today’s Irish Times.

The late, great historian of modern Europe, Tony Judt, in his last book, Ill Fares the Land, notes the way our leaders paint “a self-satisfied gloss upon crassly utilitarian calculations”: “When imposing welfare cuts upon the poor, for example, legislators . . . have taken a singular pride in the ‘hard choices’ they have had to make. The poor vote in much smaller numbers than anyone else. So there is little political risk in penalising them: just how ‘hard’ are such choices? These days, we take pride in being tough enough to inflict pain on others. If an older usage were still in force, whereby being tough consisted of enduring pain rather than imposing it on others, we should perhaps think twice before so callously valuing efficiency over compassion.”

O’Toole has been among the foremost critics of the current elites in Ireland who have led the place to such a mess. This piece is as hard-hitting as anything he has written, though I decided against buying his first book on the matter, in the interests of peace of mind, his latest might be more inspiring.

Today I was reminded of Isaiah, and when I read the passage tonight I thought there were chilling echoes of contemporary Ireland. Is it just me, or is Isaiah talking about Ireland’s 3,000 ghost estates (and even Taoisigh who stay up too late drinking and carousing – just joking).

Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The LORD Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine, a homer of seed only an ephah of grain.” Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst. Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers. So man will be brought low and mankind humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled.
Isaiah 5:8-15

I find it hard sometimes not to be bitter and angry about what O’Toole calls Ireland’s elites. And I end up cheering O’Toole or Olivia O’Leary (who does scathing pieces on Drivetime on RTE Radio – this one being a great example of literary anger). But this goes nowhere really, just twists me up.

I’d love to hear more prophetic work from the church in Ireland i.e. reading the OT prophets for today’s Ireland. I tried it at the Methodist Conference (here). And while I’m at it, why not ask for someone to inspire us for the future.

But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness. Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture; lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich.
Isaiah 5:16,17



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