Monday 24 October 2016

James Downey: Our politicians must make the very best of a bad situation

Published 01/04/2016 | 02:30

More than a month has now gone by since the General Election, and still we have no government.

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Does it matter? Yes, it matters a lot, and in many important ways.

Mind you, in some ways it will not matter very much and will not appear to matter at all. The administration, as always, will continue to run the country.

Messages will fly, on paper and through the ether, between the civil servants and the citizens. Most people will see no difference between life before the deadlock and life after it.

But you see a very different picture when you compare the lack of a guiding hand with the magnificent commemorations of the 1916 Rising and the happy and proud manner in which the public responded.

Apart from a few begrudgers - including people who should have known much better - everybody greeted the parades and other ceremonies with the enthusiasm they deserved. Most appropriately, they included an army of descendants representing persons who had fought, and died, in the Rising. They deserved the acclaim they got, and the ordinary citizens deserved the pleasure they received. Then everybody went home, and normal life resumed.

But normal life means one thing for the spectators, another thing for the administrators, and something entirely different for the politicians. Irish governments do not have a good record when it comes to commemorating big events. This makes a striking contrast with the in-depth analysis on which we can always rely from our academics and from the print and broadcasting media.

But the celebrations 10 years ago were, to all intents, a flop. This time, almost everybody got it right, nobody more spectacularly than the members of the Defence Forces. The joy and pride of the public, especially the descendants of the 1916 heroes, were palpable.

Even the re-examination of the controversial part of our history, something that often causes ill feeling, passed by with almost no argument. This owed something to the fact that at long last we seem to have settled the "Moore Street problem". Of course, it should have been settled years ago, but in Ireland we seldom seem able to get necessary things done at the right time.

None of this, however, is of any great consequence compared with the aspirations of 1916 and the manner in which we have pursued them - or failed to pursue them.

All governments of the independent Irish State have a poor record, often a deplorable record, and have failed - in so far as they have ever tried - to fulfil the desires of the 1916 rebels for equality, economic development and sound, effective governance. We have done pretty well in re-examining our history and attempting to repair our faults, but at ground level very little praise is due, and least of all to our politicians.

In this corner of the woods, we see a space inhabited by a strange tribe who mostly appear completely ignorant of the basic rule of political life, or the need for constant revision and renewal of the administration. This failure appears to have reached its low point in the last month.

Ever since the election, we have seen no intelligent or coherent intent at overcoming the deadlock. Instead, deputies' time has been occupied in seemingly endless talks centred mainly on, what might be called more politely, second grade issues.

The composition of the participants in the present talks is another mystery. Why must so many independent deputies take part? Has everybody forgotten the brisk conduct of business by political giants like Seán Lemass? Were Lemass alive now, and active in politics, one may wonder how he could keep his temper through the absurdities of the current procedures.

Instead of time-wasting discussions of issues which concern only themselves and their constituents, they should be conducting their business in the Lemass style. But they should also be thinking in the Lemass style - clearly and purposefully.

And at the beginning of the process, they should be thinking about and acting on Irish realities, Irish necessities and (because we live in the real world) Irish oddities.

Soon we will have a government - probably not a very good government, all too likely a pretty bad government, but at any rate some sort of government. We can be very sure that it will not be a radical government - not for any sinister reason, but because Irish voters don't want that.

In time, we may aspire to the aims of the 1916 rebels but that time has not come yet. In the meantime, we must make do with what we've got. Although we should not be too daring, we must not be too timid either. We must not fall into the bad old Irish habit of taking failure for granted. We cannot remain content with our current living standards, especially the continuing prevalence of poverty. We cannot continue to ignore the neglected state of the countryside.

In short, whatever the defects of the new government (and they will be numerous), its leaders must set out to make this country better. This calls for a coherent plan and for a strong determination to implement it in full, regardless of the difficulties that will face reformers. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Politicians, like everybody else, should learn that.

Irish Independent

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