Sunday 25 September 2016

Seismic result shows the people want a different Ireland

Dr Paul D’Alton

Published 02/03/2016 | 02:30

'A general election often acts like an X-ray of the psyche of a country. It revels the fractures that have often been ignored and force us to address the big questions that underlie a society.' Photo credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
'A general election often acts like an X-ray of the psyche of a country. It revels the fractures that have often been ignored and force us to address the big questions that underlie a society.' Photo credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

'The 2016 Rising' is how this newspaper described the election result. Our political leadership has repeatedly told us over the last few days that "the people have spoken". But what exactly are the people saying?

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The people are saying loud and clear that they want something different. They are saying loud and clear that they want the next century of Ireland's existence to be different. Radically different. They are saying that they do not want an Ireland where we measure our success, our recovery or our well-being in economic terms alone.

Following the crisis of 2008, there was a period when it was simply about our economic survival as a nation. That period where we are solely concerned about our economic survival has come to an end.

This election result was a way of the people telling the political leadership that they have to widen the lens of measurement when it comes to Ireland's prosperity. The people have spoken and they are asking themselves the question: "What kind of post-crisis Ireland do we want?"

A general election often acts like an X-ray of the psyche of a country. It revels the fractures that have often been ignored and force us to address the big questions that underlie a society. When we ask ourselves these questions, like 'Are we happy with our society?', the answer can be uncomfortable and unsettling.

These big questions bring up very fundamental issues about the type of society we want. These questions bypass the superficial party political divides.

This seismic election result is the outcome of Ireland eventually facing the fundamental task of deciding what kind of a country we want to be. This is not some abstract process. It is real and lived out in very real everyday situations.

Do we want a society where there seems to be an 'acceptable' number of families and children without a home? Do we want a society where there is an 'acceptable' number of sick people on trolleys and endless waiting lists for the care they need? Do we want a society where access to vital cancer services depends on your postcode? Do we want a society where the opportunity for each child to reach their potential depends on what their parents earn?

Do we want a society that exports its young people or offers those who stay zero-hour contracts?

The people have spoken and they want something different. They do not want successive governments prioritising economic development at the expense of the welfare of our most vulnerable citizens.

I have been working at the coalface of the health and education sectors for 20 years as a psychologist and educator. I have seen, through my work, the direct effects of bad policy on people suffering from mental health problems, people with cancer and people at the end of life. I have seen how the lack of access to education has crippled generations in disadvantaged communities.

We will never achieve the Ireland we want if we continue to simply see ourselves as an economy and measure our success only by advances in GDP and lose sight of ourselves as a collective.

The people have spoken - loud and clear - they want a different Ireland and this will not be achieved until our policymakers and leaders address the entrenched inequalities that paralyse Ireland.

RTÉ's exit polls on Friday showed that only 5pc of people prioritised tax and the Universal Social Charge, while 20pc prioritised healthcare, and 6pc cited homelessness and the lack of social housing as the main reasons for voting.

The people have learned from the crisis of 2008 - they know what matters most. They understand that social growth and economic growth are two sides of the same coin and a sustainable, flourishing economy can only be built on a flourishing community.

'The 2016 Rising' is telling our political leaders that the people want a different Ireland.

Dr Paul D'Alton is director of the Masters (Msc) in Mindfulness-Based Interventions at the School of Psychology UCD, president of the Psychological Society of Ireland, and head of the Department of ­Psycho-oncology at St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin

Irish Independent

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