TRADITIONALLY, this is the time for new year's resolutions. A time to take stock and a time to make changes. Here are 10 big and small resolutions that the Coalition could make as it approaches its third year in Government – but almost certainly won't.
1. Begin planning for the future again. We need to start thinking about what Ireland will look like in 10 years' time and start taking steps to prepare for life in the 2020s and 2030s. It is disheartening to keep making cuts and sacrifices if there is no picture of what waits for us on the other side. Moses promised the Israelites milk and honey. Enda Kenny should find a 21st-century equivalent.
2. Create a simple narrative about the crisis. The Government cannot decide whether our problems are self-inflicted or are the result of outside forces, such as the European Central Bank, the Germans and various others. Nor can it decide whether we are recovering or will need another bailout. We can hardly blame others for their confusion if we give confusing signals ourselves.
3. Stop picking on children. Youngsters, especially working-class youngsters, have shouldered the brunt of the recession. Even the troika is worried about the unfairness of the cuts, which have disproportionately harmed children. We may have a baby boom but we also have one of the fastest-declining birth rates in the western world. If we force those in their 20s to emigrate and place an unfair burden on children, we are squandering our demographic advantage, which is one of the main reasons for optimism about Ireland's future.
4. Borrow expertise from Britain's so-called Nudge Unit, a small department within David Cameron's cabinet office that has found dozens of ways of encouraging people to pay their taxes, insulate their houses, save for pensions or donate their organs without passing new laws or forcing people to change.
5. Simplify the tax system. The present mish-mash of taxes, duties, charges and the like makes no sense but makes avoidance easy. A minimum effective taxation rate would be a good start. The public is desperately unhappy with the property tax, so this presents a once-in-a-generation chance to make sweeping changes.
6. Scrap Science Foundation Ireland, with its billion-euro budget, and replace it with cash prizes. Many important discoveries in the past were made by amateur inventors trying to win cash prizes from the State by solving particular problems. We should leave research for its own sake to other countries and try to solve real problems.
7. Prepare the hospital system for conversion to a universal health-insurance system along the lines promised by the Coalition in the Programme for Government. If the Government is to replace the existing system with an entirely new system, as it intends, it needs to begin the process now.
8. Allow a free vote in the Dail on abortion legislation and other matters concerning ethical issues. It is absurd for the Cabinet and shadow cabinet to insist that all TDs must follow the party's lead on such matters. The major parties campaigned on a platform that included returning power to the Dail. This is an obvious example where the chamber's collective wisdom is likely to be more powerful than any individual.
9. Create a minister for banking and a minister for new technology. Both posts can be junior to begin with but we need somebody to be responsible for safeguarding the State's multi-billion 'investment' in our banks and ensuring that they begin lending again. It is equally absurd that there is nobody to champion technology use or help the one-in-five homes that are without a computer. Almost every family in Ireland unwrapped an iPad, Wii, Kindle or other wireless device this Christmas and technology now overshadows every aspect of our lives. It is too important to be left to chance.
10. Don't just nod through another Croke Park agreement in 2013. Begin a benchmarking exercise on public sector salaries. Include pensions in the process this time and publish the conclusions. Then talk to the unions about Croke Park. There is too much misinformation and fear out there. Everybody needs to know the facts before we can have a real discussion.