Belfast Telegraph

No room for change stuck in the parent-trap

By Gail Walker

We always like to make the best of things here, so predictably new statistics showing that 36% of under-35s in Northern Ireland still live with their parents has prompted the usual weary old debate.

On the one hand, we're a country of "mummy's boys and daddy's girls", spoiled rotten by our adoring parents and too lazy to leave home. We're particularly fond of this idea as regards the Ulster male, a man of comic legend ruined for his future wife by a mother who wouldn't let him lift a finger, baked for him every week and indulged all his crazy world views.

On the other hand, the fact that more than a third are still roosting in the parental home is seen as evidence of the fundamental decency of the place: here is a land where traditional values still hold sway like some sort of Seventies sitcom – the idea of "family" actually means something. Not for us the atomised lives of the wanton English; we are there for each other. Blood counts for something.

Problem is, our Seventies sitcom is less Wendy Craig and Geoffrey Palmer in Butterflies and more Warren Mitchell and Dandy Nichols in Till Death Us Do Part.

And blood does count for an awful lot here. Because the one interpretation never put on these statistics is that they also damningly expose how little the two communities interact in a shared space.

Also, it shows how tight the grip of older generations is on new generations, and when the grip is reinforced by sectarian prejudice, bigotry, rancid attitudes – or family values, as the kids refer to it as – the depth and extent of the damage can be appreciated.

Well over a third of people in Northern Ireland are not living independent lives until they're in their 40s, if at all. That means they're not paying mortgages, raising families, shaping their own future.

But more importantly than that, how much harder is it to be friendly with people who are completely unlike their parents?

You see, it's not that 36% of under-35s are sitting seething with resentment in their tiny bedrooms. It suits them. Just as it suits everybody here to carry on trundling along with your family's friends, your school-friends, your co-religionists, in your own bubble.

The logical extension is that you just stay at home, locked into attitudes, opinions and views that are at least 30 years out of date. By the time you actually become an individual and start engaging with society as a whole you are in your 40s and have cloned your dad and mum. Bully for you.

In other words it's no surprise that attitudes here develop the way they do, that bigotry has increased rather than receded, that prejudice is still alive and well among the younger generations.

For too many, the X Factor means voting just like your mother and father do. Oh yes, home is where the hate is. Just because their listening to hip 'n' happening musak doesn't mean they don't also hear the clatter of the fife and drums, or the lonely wail of the Uilleann pipes.

It's the old problem – how many people who think they're liberal, open-minded and reasonable actually have friends who don't agree with them politically and aren't from their social-religious background?

Take a look at Facebook, where a lot of the slabbering is done online. These aren't 12-year-olds spouting bigotry from their bedrooms. They're big hairy, beardy men putting up a post while still waiting for their dad to come out of the bathroom.

And it's always the same. Something on the news will punch their buttons and the facade of being of the modern world just falls away like sales of Lady Gaga's music.

But there are so many of them holding the same retro opinions that they think other people agreeing with them means their views are reasonable. In fact, they reek of the olden days, of snide, sly, side-of-the-mouth, soft sectarianism.

It's funny how unexpected statistics such as these explain so much. It wouldn't matter so much in Leeds, or Nottingham, or even Carlow.

But in a place where even "leaving home" gets most people buying a house a hundred yards away from their parents' home and "going to uni" is 40 minutes on the bus from your front gate and the graveyard where you know you'll be buried you can see from your bedroom window, statistics such as these are just depressing. Where the teachers in school were pupils in the school.

The gene pool is stagnant. And there's a big coating of scum across the top of it. That's us, I'm afraid.

Belfast Telegraph

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