Tuesday 25 October 2016

Time for a new social contract

Published 28/02/2016 | 02:30

The RTE General Election debate. Photo: FusionShooters
The RTE General Election debate. Photo: FusionShooters

The people have spoken, but what have they said? In the first instance, that is now for those who have been elected to decide. For they have been extended a singular honour, and also a great responsibility. There is no doubt their task will be difficult. That much was known at the outset. But their duty is greater than the relative difficulties at hand. A government must be formed, and not just any government, or, indeed, not just a stable government - although that is required - but a representative government of all the people who have spoken with a disparate voice, but who have spoken all the same, and whose message must now be made coherent and real. The country deserves nothing less.

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The campaign itself has come in for a large measure of criticism. It was said to be dull and uninspiring, to be stage-managed and controlled to within an inch of its suffocated life by those who have carved out a career for themselves to faux listen, to manipulate a message accordingly and then to deliver it in a manner which has repeatedly done a disservice, or failed to live up to the will of the people. There is truth in such a critical analysis, but it is also a form of cynicism too far, easy though that cynicism may be to understand. Because the real truth is, within the fractured nature of the vote, between the competing voices and apparent contradictions, the central message of this election did struggle through, tentatively at first, like a plaintive cry, but eventually with a clarion call: that message is that the time has come for a new form of social contract to be written with the people, one which will elevate society, and with it the essence of politics itself, to a new and deserving place which properly reflects the singular honour bestowed upon those who have been elected to the national parliament, one hundred years on from the symbolic birth of the nation.

That jaded cynicism has tended to sneer at the Fine Gael message in this election - 'Keep the recovery going' - and has sought to present as hypocritical the Fianna Fail message 'An Ireland for All'; but within the soundbite slogans of the two main political parties, the truth can be divined: Yes, the recovery is under way and, yes, it is important to keep it going; but the failure so far, and the success to come, has been and will be to extend that recovery to all, not just in their pockets and to their families and homes, but also throughout this society we all share, across the country wherein we all live, and within the lives of all of the people who make up the varied and intertwined strands of what shall always remain a Republic of her citizens.

For the main political parties, however, there is another message bursting through the central and combined theme of a 'recovery for all', which is contained in the election, indeed, the sweeping triumph of those candidates of new parties and of no party at all, the Independents, across the political spectrum, who will adorn the 32nd Dail and force it to bend to the will of the people. As such, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail would be well advised to avoid outward show this weekend, and to be aware that they have been put on notice that the new social contract which must now be agreed should do justice to the spirit and meaning of a new age. There is no place for self-interest in this new age. Cute hoorism is dead, as with old Ireland in the grave. It is time for these two parties born of a civil war to live up to the greatness of their past and to prove themselves renewed and worthy of a future of the common good.

Sunday Independent

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