Sunday 26 October 2014

President's timely message of hope shows us a way forward

Published 01/07/2013 | 17:00

President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to Ireland’s unsung heroes, the ordinary, decent citizens on whose fortitude the future depends.

"This week, voices from the past have been heard which serve to highlight behaviours and attitudes at the very root of that failed economic model. They do not make for easy listening.

"But let us be certain of one thing: these are not the voices of the people of Ireland; the attitudes they reveal are not shared by the people of Ireland; the behaviours they reflect are not characteristic of the people of Ireland."

THE above words from President Michael D Higgins yesterday are worth reading again and again. They are worth taking seriously on board. They contain an important road map for the way forward for this country at a time when the people are very bruised and in danger of descending into an excess of self-loathing. The legacy of the banking collapse is about huge volumes of debt being loaded on to Irish taxpayers.

But it is also about national morale, confidence, self-image and the Irish people's reputation abroad. We must accept that over time the debt issue can be managed and ameliorated, though ultimately it must in the main be paid.

But the other issues about ourselves as a people must also be addressed. And from that process the opportunity must be taken to learn lessons to avoid a repeat of the crazy awfulness that drove us into national bankruptcy.

President Higgins was, appropriately enough, speaking at a reception in Aras an Uachtarain for voluntary community activists, including people involved in the Tidy Towns movement. These are unsung people across the country who continuously lift a spade and a brush to make their surroundings look better and the people who live there feel better.

The President is completely right to say these people are closer to the real Ireland than any bank principals whose ambitions were ultimately only quelled by calamity. As the nation's elected first citizen, the President was correct to summate public dismay at the attitudes revealed in the Anglo bank tapes brought to light by this newspaper. He is also right to say most people abhor the sentiments and attitudes expressed on these tapes.

"The people of Ireland, who have borne the brunt of a financial crisis not of their making, are shocked and dismayed that a culture of greed and recklessness emerged in some of our institutions – a culture which was not in keeping with our core values as a nation," Mr Higgins said.

He also delivered a strong message of hope – rather reminiscent of "Is Feidir Linn!" – when he said: "The Irish people, who are rightly recognised for their fortitude, work ethic and courage, will take us out of this present crisis.

"The authentic voice, spirit and values of Ireland will be restored and will lead us to what is important – a real economy that provides sustainable employment for all and a just and ethical society that allows all its citizens to fully participate and achieve their life potential."

The president also perceptively addressed the issue of damage done overseas to the reputation of Ireland. Here we must reflect upon many ordinary German citizens who have long had great affection for Ireland, its music, culture and beautiful countryside.

It is very clear that they, in particular, are offended by some of the Anglo Tapes' content, notably the singing of 'Deutschland Uber Alles'. There is no denying that it will take a bit of time for that difficulty to abate. But Mr Higgins also referred to the other view of the Irish people who have worked hard to cope with their difficulties over the past five years. Implicitly, he was referring to other Irish stories out there in the big world, such as the contribution to peacekeeping and overseas development aid.

"Informed foreign opinion will recognise that the real story from Ireland is not the aberrant voices we heard this week but the heroism of its people who are determined, not only to get through this crisis, but to secure a future that is just, prosperous and sustainable," he summed up.

IN A very busy and often cynical world, we can sometimes become overwhelmed by the negative things that bedevil us. And it has been a week of very unedifying revelations about people who were at the heart of a banking system that ultimately crashed. At times such as these we need help in seeing the other side of the equation – the positive one.

The President's message of hope does just that, and is rather timely.

However, we are only likely to derive lasting benefit from his message if we can get to grips with what happened in and around autumn 2008. This makes the upcoming inquiry into the banking crisis extremely important indeed.

It needs to establish the facts of what happened. From there we must see whether lessons can be learned to avoid a repeat.

It is clear that the forthcoming inquiry will be conducted by a committee of TDs and senators, a format that does not inspire great confidence for a variety of reasons.

But it may be the only chance we have to find a way forward that will allow the Irish people to create a better future.

Irish Independent

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