Sunday 24 July 2016

Burton must seize the moment for good of party

Published 05/07/2014 | 02:30

New leader of the Labour party Joan Burton is congratulated by former leader Eamon Gilmore at the Mansion House in Dublin. PA
New leader of the Labour party Joan Burton is congratulated by former leader Eamon Gilmore at the Mansion House in Dublin. PA

SO, after a lifetime as a Labour Party activist, Joan Burton has become the first female leader of one of the original founding political parties in the State. First elected to Dail Eireann in the so-called 'Spring Tide' of 1992, she is a seasoned political campaigner, and once Eamon Gilmore had announced his resignation in the wake of the party's performance in the local and EU elections, it was never really in doubt that she would be his successor.

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But these are worrying times for Labour – synonymous with austerity, hounded in its traditional base by Sinn Fein and with an ageing profile. It is no time to assume leadership for leadership's sake.

As Labour leader, Joan Burton must perform a delicate balancing act between trying to revive the fortunes of a party which is demoralised, has seldom been lower in opinion polls and is about to lose three senior members. All this along with the duty it has to continue with the revival of the country's battered economy and get more people back to work. The signs are good, but it is vital any re-negotiation of the Programme for Government enhances rather than damages the credibility of Ireland, so hard won over the last five years of austerity Budgets.

This is not a time for 'tough talking,' it is not a time for the Labour Party to throw its weight around to impress some non-existent constituency which wants to replace harmony with confrontation at the heart of government. Joan Burton's first priority as leader the Labour Party is to the good of the country, rather than the good of Labour. Of course the party has suffered most in the public mind from budgetary cutbacks. But this can be traced back to broken promises more than anything else.

There is no reason Joan Burton cannot work well with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fine Gael to fashion a new government for the next two years. It is a long time in politics and, handled with care, it is enough time for the Labour Party and its new leader to convince the electorate that what was done, difficult as it was, was in the interests of the nation. We are a forgiving people and it is up to Joan Burton to tap into that forgiveness or face the electoral consequences.

Let's help screen-addict children be more active

Despite the proliferation of online devices, such as iPads and laptops, the television set in the corner is still the most popular device on which to watch TV, and according to new research, Irish people spend an astonishing three-and-a-half hours in front of the 'goggle box' every day. Although it is only an increase of 14 minutes since similar research was carried out two years ago, it does portray us as a nation of couch potatoes and could be at least part of the explanation for the growing problem of obesity.

The research, which was conducted for TAM Ireland by Ipsos MRBI, found that 92pc of people watch their television 'live' and that 80pc of those surveyed still preferred to watch the TV set, while over 5pc watched on a laptop and 3pc on a mobile phone.

The research calls in to question Department of Communications' plans to replace the television licence with a broadcasting tax on every household, regardless of whether there is a TV in the house or not. If so many people are still watching television in the conventional way, then the argument for 'taxing' all these new devices just doesn't stand up.

Another aspect highlighted in separate research in Britain is that before a child is seven, he or she will spend the equivalent of one year looking at TV and computer screens and that teenagers have six hours of 'screen time' every day. It is worrying that screens appear to be taking over the world and that young people are already living in a "virtual reality". There is little point in trying to turn back technology, but it is probably time that education authorities took note and gave physical education a more prominent role in education in an attempt to counter-balance the all-pervasive nature of online entertainment.

Irish Independent

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