We remembered, reflected and reimagined our country
Published 04/03/2016 | 02:30
Living in Ireland has often made me despair. There are so many things that are wrong with our country, and I'm not referring to the woegeous weather we get most of the year. Living here often feels like inhabiting a strange place somewhere between the Boomtown Rats' 'Banana Republic' and Fr Ted's Craggy Island.
But then, every so often something happens which makes me remember why I love this country and why I would never seriously consider not living here. Last weekend was one of those occasions.
This was the first election in which I got up close and personal with the actual process itself. At the ripe old age of 54 and after decades of 'turning into my mother', last weekend something of my father surfaced in my psyche. My dad loved elections.
He loved the process. He loved speculating on where second- and third-preference votes would go, and who would be elected.
He was a born mathematician and was fascinated by numbers. As I stood in two count centres last weekend I finally understood a little of what it was that appealed to him.
But for me it wasn't the mathematical conundrum of the voting that interested me. What I found fascinating was that I was witnessing democracy working.
In a most unprepossessing sports hall I watched the voice of the Irish people rising up from the ballot papers as they were checked, sorted into bundles and then pigeonholes, resulting in a slow march of candidates being "deemed to be elected".
I went home listening to the radio and the initial reaction to what was unfolding across the country. Some commentators seemed to despair that we Irish had done something daft.
"The people have chosen chaos over stability," one pundit proclaimed. Many seemed to be wringing their hands at the scattergun approach of the electorate.
"It's a plague on all your houses kind of result," announced another. But it is far from either.
We are a political people. It's in our DNA. I think most people think long and hard about how they will vote. And last week approximately half of us who voted, voted not just for change but for fairness and for equality. We also voted for a new way of doing politics.
Unlike the Government parties, the Irish people have learned the lessons of the folly of the Celtic Tiger and its subsequent catastrophic collapse.
We know that our so-called economic recovery is still very fragile. We know that we are carrying a huge, and many of us feel unjust, debt.
But more than that, I think many of us felt no pride whatsoever in an economic recovery that has largely been built on the shoulders of the most vulnerable. How can we take pride in cranes on our horizons and more jobs when we have more than 1,500 children who have no place to call home?
How can we take the recovery seriously when our hospital emergency rooms are like war zones and our maternity hospitals are apparently falling down? These are the aspects of living in Ireland that seriously depress me and make me ashamed of my country.
But last weekend we called a halt to what at best can be called growing inequality, or at worst the callous disregard for the most vulnerable by the state.
This General Election has restored my faith in my country.
We, the people, stood up for rural Ireland, for the poor, for the homeless, for carers, for lone parents, for disability and for special needs. We collectively shouted "Stop!".
Once again the people have proved themselves to be ahead of government on what really matters.
Following on from the marriage referendum in May of last year, we have repeated our demand for a more equal country, a compassionate country. A country we can be proud of. A true republic.
The slogan of the 1916 Commemoration urges us to 'Remember. Reflect. Reimagine.' I think that at the weekend our people showed the Government what that really means. We can reimagine a better Ireland.
The question now is, can they?