Where did all the anger go?

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Declan Murphy
Image caption,
County Limerick shopkeeper Declan Murphy has been forced to close his family business

In February 2009 more than 100,000 people marched through the streets of Dublin, protesting the Irish government's proposed austerity measures.

It was supposed to be the start of a sustained campaign against belt-tightening that many ordinary Irish workers felt was punitive and unfair.

"Tax the greedy, not the needy" went the slogan.

But twenty months and two austerity budgets later, Dublin today echoes to the sound of silence.

Despite public sector cuts averaging more than 15%, and a further huge bank bail-out, making Ireland the EU's most indebted nation, the popular backlash against the government's fiscal tightening has never really materialised.

"The politicians have let everyone down." County Limerick shopkeeper, Declan Murphy says,

"I don't think anybody's saying enough about it".

Declan is selling off the last of his stock, selling a menswear store which had been in his family for four generations.

Like thousands of other victims of the worst recession in Ireland's modern history, he's planning a new life abroad.

"It's gut-wrenching, it's soul-destroying. You feel like you've let 121 years of history down. But we had no choice. We're flying out to Australia at the end of November."

The writer and commentator for the Irish Times Fintan O Toole said the relative absence of public demonstrations in Ireland, such as have been commonplace across France and southern Europe, reflects a profound dynamic in the Irish character.

"The Irish have a reputation for being very wild and unruly. That may be true personally but it's not collectively.

"We've been shaped by 150 years of the Catholic Church, by a sort of authoritarian mentality. And Ireland has always dealt with dissent in an extraordinary way - you don't storm the govt buildings and decapitate the Prime Minister, you get on a boat or on a plane. And that has a very conservative effect."

The instinct to leave has its limits though, with so many Irish households trapped by negative equity, in homes they can't sell.

Unemployed former fuel salesman, Seamus Sherlock, has felt the pinch of debt more than most. After divorcing, he discovered payment arrears on his electricity bill, and was threatened with almost immediate disconnection by the electricity company, ESB.

"I was facing losing my children. They couldn't stay with me with no power supply".

In protest at what he felt was a punitive repayment schedule, Seamus took a dramatic and ultimately successful step, and chained himself to the company headquarters' railings in Dublin.

He was soon the subject of nationwide publicity and an internet campaign, which revealed, he said, thousands of other Irish people silently suffering similar challenges.

"It's a thing in Ireland, you don't really talk about your problems.

"Certainly you don't talk about being in debt. And I'd ask people to maybe get a small bit more vocal. I'm not into this running and shouting, screaming down streets.

"You know what - people died for what we have, one way or another. And I'm proud of them but I think people forget about that.

"But in the last eight or nine weeks, I've seen a huge difference in people's attitudes."

You can listen to Ed Butlers Documentary "Irish Anger" in full on the BBC iPlayer.

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