We live in an age where everybody knows their rights. My mother, a teacher, has come home with tales of five-year-olds who are aware of their rights, and use them as a threat. And they’re not unusual. In post Celtic Tiger Ireland we’re all very well aware of what’s owed to us, how we should be treated, and our personal dignity.
But what about our responsibilities? It’s very often forgotten that ‘rights’ is an incomplete term when the word ‘responsibility’ is omitted. We all have human rights, but equally we have human responsibilities. Most of them are based on respecting other peoples’ rights.
At the moment, there is a type of warfare going on in Ireland in which some people are trying to assert their rights at the expense of others.
In this week’s paper, Eoin Weldon reports on the frustration being felt by local politicians at the fact that they can’t do the jobs they were elected to do. The local representatives quoted have a right to be allowed to do their work but, more importantly, the people they represent have a right to that representation. That’s a pretty fundamental right.
Also this week, Christine Allen writes about the Cork people who are being denied their legal right to passports.
Behind both stories we see the right to a living wage come to the fore – some CPSU members are having a very tough time making ends meet since the pay cuts of last year. I heard of one chap who, since the pay cuts, is earning €1600 per month. His mortgage (which he qualified for under his previous, substantially higher, salary) is €1400 per month. Nobody can live on that, and I feel genuinely sympathetic to him and his colleagues who have been put in that position.
The CPSU are right to be angry. But we’re all angry. Most of us have taken pay cuts, while many have lost jobs, or even homes.
What about the private sector workers on short hours who can’t get appointments at their local social welfare offices because civil servants are on strike? What are they supposed to do? Strike action is not going to solve their problem – they won’t go on strike, because they are glad they have a job, and they will do nothing to jeopardise it.
A social welfare officer recently told an acquaintance of mine on a three-day week that he didn’t qualify for any payments – because he wasn’t actively seeking work. Patently incorrect, but where should he go for help? His local councillor? Well, he could – but she won’t be able to get anywhere either.
What about people who have jobs, with start dates, abroad, who can’t get passports and take up their positions? Where should they go for help? The passport office? They could – but they will be so long queueing that their job will be filled by the time they get their travel documents.
As we’ve all been told by teachers throughout the ages, two wrongs don’t make a right. Equally, rights do not exist without corresponding responsibilities. Margaret Thatcher once said that society did not exist. If things keep going the way they are, soon, she might be right.