Thursday 29 September 2016

Kevin Doyle: There is no reason for us to feel ashamed that we don't have a proper government on centenary of 1916

Published 26/03/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach, Enda Kenny with Megan (8) and Laura Jones (10) in front of a memorial titled ‘They are of us all’ at the opening of the new GPO Witness history Centre. The memorial was created to remember the 40 children killed during Easter week 1916. Photo: Damien Eagers
Taoiseach, Enda Kenny with Megan (8) and Laura Jones (10) in front of a memorial titled ‘They are of us all’ at the opening of the new GPO Witness history Centre. The memorial was created to remember the 40 children killed during Easter week 1916. Photo: Damien Eagers

One month ago today the ballot papers spilled out onto tables across the Republic and combined to create a new image of Irish politics.

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In the days since there has been a stretch in the evenings and plenty of time for reflection.

But still our TDs haven't managed to figure out the result delivered on that Saturday morning.

It now appears likely that we will break the 1992/93 record of going 48 days without a government - but is that really such a bad thing?

As we commemorate, not celebrate, the centenary of the 1916 Rising it seems somewhat fitting that the electorate decided to use their votes so disruptively.

What the gun didn't achieve at the GPO in those stormy days, the ballot box can force today.

We now sit with the British as equals at the European table and with the exception of Gerry Adams we feel comfortable walking the corridors of power in the United States.

Everything is not perfect but there is no reason to be embarrassed this weekend that Ireland is governed by a caretaker administration.

Just as 100 years ago the people took a leap that the politicians weren't ready for, now the establishment is again readjusting to a new reality.

This week we saw ministers fuss over 17 TDs of different hues like a mother welcoming the cousins from America for the first time in decades.

The red carpet up the steps into Government Buildings was hoovered, there were sandwiches for every taste ordered in and as they entered a large room on a floor above the Taoiseach's office they were welcomed with open arms.

Just a few short news cycles ago the same 'dolly mix' of Independents were being described as a 'rag bag' who were not to be trusted.

Some see what is happening as a slow-moving car crash destined for disaster. Others see it as a new chapter in our history.

The truth is that the significance sits somewhere in the middle. Change, much like the peace William Butler Yeats wrote about, comes dropping slowly.

Our politicians are now for the first time in generations having a serious debate on housing, homelessness, health, water and what kind of an Ireland we want not just until the next election but for many more after that.

In a way the people have retaken ownership of Ireland and after the economic turmoil of the crash have sought to reassert control over our destinies.

The politicians tried the old trick of buying us with our own money but we've grown up.

Yes, people want something back after years of austerity but the spirit of the proclamation has been rekindled. We live in a society where some are more equal than others and we know it. Nobody believes for a second that poverty will end and hospitals will run like clockwork - but people now want the best Ireland we can have.

The election result demanded a country for young and old, where people don't have to sleep in the doorway of the Department of Environment that should provide housing for them and where everything we do is a lifestyle choice.

Whether or not the rainbow coalition happens is important but more significant is the fact that the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil no longer have the right to rule purely on their historical merits.

Diverse voices from across the spectrum are now being listened to and within a few weeks we will know whether they are actually being heard.

The grand coalition still seems unlikely but when it eventually happens at some future point people will think back to this period and say it was the voters of 2016 who made it a possibility.

When he launched the Government's programme of commemorative events, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he wanted this year to be "a meaningful opportunity to reflect on our achievements and our failing".

He said we should take the opportunity "to imagine our future".

In Dublin yesterday, Mr Kenny mused that the bloody experience of 1916 has taught us "that the only way forward as a nation is to sit down together, work hard, and build a better future".

"When it comes to imagining the next 100 years of the Irish State, I hope that every custodian of Ireland's democratic tradition can protect the public trust in them by putting the people and the national interest first," he said.

A month is a long time without a government but five years would be an eternity with the wrong government.

Mr Kenny's future involves a phonecall to Micheál Martin which may not be as difficult as both men fear.

The Civil War is over and has been replaced by political rancour. But almost anything in politics can be achieved in 'the national interest'.

This weekend offers us the opportunity to wonder what this generation's mark will be in the Irish story.

Was it for this? Yes it was. The voters have brought history to life.

Irish Independent

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