Lansdowne Road is with O'Leary in the grave
There is a feature to the new “Aviva” stadium which is symptomatic of a cultural degeneration, I believe, with a disturbing political nuance. It relates also to the “O2” concert venue at the Point.
A little over six years ago, on January 27th, 2004, John O’Donoghue, then minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, made a speech which began: “This is a good day for Irish sport.” That morning the government had agreed to spend €190 million on a new stadium at Lansdowne Road, well over half the then projected cost of the venture.
Five years later, on February 12th, 2009, the Irish Rugby Football Union, which had got most of the funding for its new stadium from the State, announced that the new stadium would be called, not the John O’Donoghue stadium, or the Bertie Mini-Bowl, or, more plausibly, the Jack Kyle stadium or the Brian O’Driscoll stadium or more realistically, just Lansdowne Road, but the Aviva stadium – Aviva being the world’s fifth-largest insurance group, a leading player in the world’s financial nexus that has brought us such joy over the last few years. For this, Aviva was paying a few million euro.
It was disappointing that after the State (ie, Irish society) had paid such a huge amount of money to build the thing, it was now officially to be called after a global insurance company. That might not matter much if the rest of us were to pay no attention and were to continue to call it Lansdowne Road. After all, Lansdowne Road had been the country’s main rugby venue since 1876. But in an act of spectacular deference to corporate power – in this instance a global insurance company – the media here has capitulated, and the stadium is already known colloquially as the Aviva stadium. Why would sports writers and commentators now call a stadium we all have known since childhood as Lansdowne Road, the Aviva stadium? Of course, for years they tried calling the All-Ireland hurling championship the Guinness All-Ireland hurling championship and the football one the Bank of Ireland football championship. It never caught on. But this Aviva stadium title has caught on.
How is it we collude so easily and unthinkingly in such obsequiousness to corporate interests? Do we have no minds of our own? Similarly the Point. How did we come to call that place O2, after a corporate mobile phone company? Does the corporate world rule the roost not just in the corporate realm but in our minds, even after all the devastation the corporate world has done to the real world? After Independence, we railed against the naming of places after our colonial masters, hence Kingstown became Dún Laoghaire, Queenstown Cobh, Sackville Street O’Connell Street, and all that. I think that was dead right. We needed to decolonise our minds; the pity is we didn’t do so more comprehensively. But now we are letting our minds be colonised all over again by the global capitalist corporations, and we are apparently quite happy about this.
Certainly we have gone along with it spectacularly in the political sphere. We rode the global capitalist wave with gusto for at least a decade, and in the process did terrible damage to our society and to our mindsets. We came to believe there was no alternative to free unregulated markets, whatever the social consequences. We cheered on the Fianna Fáil/PD government as it devastated the tax base and deepened inequality here at the expense of misery, certainly for a million and more citizens.
So comprehensive has the colonisation of our mindsets been that we have now replaced the idea of citizen with that of taxpayer. We have managed to monetise the very essence of what it is to be part of this community. It is the “taxpayer” that will have to bail out the banks; it is the “taxpayer” that has to fund social welfare; it is the “taxpayer” that has to bear the brunt of the recession. It is their “hard-earned” income that has to be “raided” for all of the above bank bailouts, social welfare, etc.
Of course, it is through those of us who pay taxes that the State is funded in the main. But the prism of “taxpayer” is a gross distortion. It has within it the idea that only through the payment of tax are there entitlements from society (what about infants and others not in a position to pay taxes)?
But, more crucially, is there not implicit in the “taxpayer” idea the notion that the income derived from taxes was/is the “property” of the person who pays? Is it not as though the unregulated market distribution of income confers property rights? That it is okay for some people to earn a million, and others to earn less than €15,000? But isn’t part of the point of taxation to undo the unfairness of markets?
The idea of property rights to one’s “earnings” has colonised our minds and has made the achievement of a just society so much more difficult.