FINANCE Minister Brian Cowen last night delivered a speech setting out his personal vision for Ireland.
Stepping out from Bertie Ahern's shadow, he shared his thoughts on the development of the nation in the future.
The Fianna Fail leadership frontrunner said he was an optimist about the direction the country was taking. From a time of national malaise and identity crisis around 1985, the population had emerged into a strong position of confidence and growth.
"Our people have responded every time the lead is given," Mr Cowen said in a keynote address to open the McGill summer school.
"There is no doubt that we have many serious problems to overcome, and that various trends, including globalisation, pose direct challenges. However, I believe that a fair balancing suggests many reasons to be positive about the soul of Ireland. We have the potential to strengthen further our social fabric and to do this on the basis of an ever-evolving culture and identity."
Mr Cowen said his vision of Ireland was one "which is, at its very core, positive and outward-looking.
"I completely disagree with those who say that progress has been all about the economy and nothing to do with society. That assertion does a grave disservice to successive governments and the social partners who have worked at agreeing economic and social priorities on the basis of a shared commitment."
The most dramatic change since he had entered politics was that Ireland had overcome mass unemployment and emigration. Increasing the number of jobs had provided greater purpose and greater meaning to individual lives than any other factor.
But Mr Cowen said that with prosperity "must come a sense of personal responsibility and self-discipline".
Warning against the coarsening of public life, he said be believed Ireland needed to put value on developing a culture that insisted on "civility in our dealings, courtesy and consideration for others, especially our elderly and vulnerable, and respect for our laws and those charged to uphold them."
High levels of employment, a rising population and the achievement of an unprecedented pace of growth brought with it inevitable and serious pressures, he said.
"There is no doubt that families and communities face challenges today which make it hard for them to maintain much which was valuable in the past. But equally there is no doubt that there are significant signs that the social capital of this country remains strong."