Semester at Sea: Ellen’s Travels

Ellen Mitchell/Sun Star Columnist
Oct. 7, 2013

Dublin, Ireland was the second exceptionally memorable place on my trip so far. The first was Belgium, which was mostly memorable for it’s food.

The Irish have had a long history of toil and trouble that culminated in the British takeover and the Irish famine, which sent thousands packing into America as immigrants and prompted the Irish to turn a cold shoulder to the British for the next several hundred years. The nasty fights between Catholic Irish and Protestant British have died down a little since then and the big issue of the day is the ballot measure to remove the senate. This is not a vote to restrict power, or change the duties of the senate, but to change the government system and remove the senate from the equation all together.

Right now, the government is a parliament, like a lot of European countries, and the president actually has the power to get a vote directly from the people of Ireland if he or she believes it is a matter of great importance. The problem is that this is done so often, that the government continues to spend over $20,000 each year on the senators salaries, and they don’t make any decisions.

As you can see printed on flags and signs all over Dublin, the vote on October 4 will determine whether a good chunk of the people’s large tax bill will continue to feed a rarely used senate. And the tax bill is large, one of the largest in the European union. I spoke to a man from the United States who had come to live in Dublin with his wife. He showed me and my companions where the nearest ATM was. He told us about life in Dublin in an adopted half Irish, half southern accent.

“They’re trying to make me pay even more!” he said about the latest tax raise. “I was so mad, I nearly got arrested for protesting it. I got in trouble with the security.”

I never found out the whole story of the near-arrest, but it appeared to me where ever I went that Ireland was still in the midst of political troubles. I asked if the man got any benefits because of the high taxes, like healthcare and education, but he just shrugged and said, “No, not really.”

The truth is that the Irish government is deep in debt and is (theoretically, anyways) using all these taxes to attempt to turn around the economy, so right now the money does not come back to the people in the form of benefits. Nobody seems very optimistic, but neither are there wide-scale riots. The Irish seem to do what they’ve always done when under the thumb of bigger, nastier leaders. They have a pint, recite some poetry, and sing and dance their troubles away all weekend.

As one student so aptly put it, “They work hard, they play hard.”

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