Wednesday 28 September 2016

Beware the ides of spring, Enda

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

The Coalition has too often adopted a far too circumspect position on openness and transparency with the citizen
The Coalition has too often adopted a far too circumspect position on openness and transparency with the citizen

One of the curiosities of public life is that the juxtaposition of the concept of spring with new movements rarely ends well. The fatal attraction towards such a union is understandable, for spring implies some form of renewal. Spring, though, as we know to our cost, can be an equivocal, deceitful season. In the political world too, spring, as we have found in the Arab or the Prague spring, or, in our case, the Spring tide, rarely ends well. Despite such unfortunate precedents, the initial attraction of a Coalition, which certainly needs a great deal of cleansing and transformation, to the concept of a Spring Statement, was understandable. What was somewhat more puzzling is how the Coalition has since backed away from this brief moment of optimism with abnormal speed.

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The circumspection is understandable on one level. Concern is particularly high that too much transparency at this point in the election cycle might precipitate a year-long Dutch auction. This, however, is simply not good enough. One of the serial sins of the Coalition has been the raising of expectations in theory, followed by deflation in practice. Having let the genie of a Spring Statement out of the bottle, it is too late for the Coalition to go looking for a cork now. Ironically, the Coalition's initial instincts may actually have been correct. This is a State that has been on a cruel journey on a hard road for almost a decade. Great damage in that regard has been done, mostly to the working poor, while carefully self- selected elites, mostly chosen by the Coalition cartel, have sailed through the Great Irish Disruption.

One of the many consequences of this has consisted of an existential malaise where faith has been lost by the citizens in the institutions of the State and, more important still, in their own future. After the road we have travelled, if there is a prospect that we might, as a people, feel the sun on our faces, the Coalition - even if it wishes - should not keep the citizens in the shade. The Government realises it is, in the anxious words of Brendan Howlin, very finite on the resources front. But, the virtues of cautious conservatism can be overrated. After seven years of sacrifice, the voter deserves, at a minimum, a comprehensive outline of where the State will face next under the Coalition's captaincy in areas as diverse as tax reform, public sector pay, the future of our banks, and, above all else, the reform of how we are governed.

The most important indicator of a real commitment to reform, when it comes to that final issue, would consist of an open and coherent national debate on how we secure a path to recovery. The citizens of a state that has failed as comprehensively as this one are entitled to a more comprehensive debate about our future than the smash-and-grab rhetoric of an election campaign. Some might even call such a process a 'democratic revolution'.

The Taoiseach would do well to recall his claim, prior to his coronation, that one of the defining characteristics of 'Paddy' was that he likes to 'know the story'. Mr Kenny was being somewhat optimistic about human nature, for 'Paddy's' thirst for knowledge is often predicated upon whether the story he will be told is nice or nasty. However, in an election year, Paddy is, at a minimum, entitled to know the story. The Coalition has too often adopted a far too circumspect position on openness and transparency with the citizen. Should it do so on this occasion, it could well be a case of 'beware the ides of Spring Statements, Enda'.

Sunday Independent

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