Saturday 22 October 2016

New Year, new us – our country can begin again

Published 31/12/2015 | 02:30

Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke

We have it in our power to begin the world over again, wrote Thomas Paine. On New Year's Eve, with an election in the offing, both reflection on closure and the anticipation of a new start hangs in the air.

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny has a firm grip on the reins with a view towards going to the country shortly. The Government may look back with some sense of achievement. Fine Gael has garnered the credit, Labour the blame - if the opinion polls are correct. Both parties ought to expect a share of both. The axis of Michael Noonan in finance and Brendan Howlin marshalling expenditure has restored stability and direction.

With the prospect of reasonable pay rises and a weak euro - and continued quantitative easing in the EU - growth should continue into 2016.

But unemployment is still far above the level of the 2000-2007 period. Sinn Féin's fitness for office is once more under the spotlight, given the support of the party's leader, Gerry Adams, for tax cheat Thomas 'Slab' Murphy.

The duel between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil for supremacy on the opposition benches has intensified.

Questions about the hegemony of the civil war over the political landscape are also being asked with new vigour.

Fanciful or not, the prospect of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael doing the unthinkable and putting the country before party interest has been mooted. The electorate will not fall on its knees in gratitude for deliverance from the darkest recession experienced in recent history, as the recovery has been driven by the sacrifices and stoicism of the labour force.

Voters may appreciate the contribution of government, but they will not be giving anyone a free pass to return to office.

Specious promises will be seen for what they are by a population that will not be bedazzled by pledges engraved on fool's gold. The Taoiseach has suggested that the conditions are right for the hundreds of thousands who have emigrated to come home. That invitation would be more appealing if the housing shortage was less acute, and if rents were under control. It would also help if we had a health service fit for the 21st century. Many feel they have taken a sufficiency of pain and ought now be entitled to a share of the gain.

Balancing the long-term requirements of our society means managing expectations beyond auction politics

The Ireland of 2016 is a far cry from the one fashioned from the Easter rebellion. Then, as now, the desire to strive for better was compelling. Given the toll exacted by those bitter years we have an obligation to reach beyond our grasp and succeed. Just because we have failed in the past, as the afore-mentioned Mr Paine entreats, is no excuse not to begin again.

Happy New Year.

Irish Independent

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