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Coalition must do a lot better while radical rethink on EU is needed

When a student gets 50pc on a paper its meaning can be variously described as follows. He is keeping up. He is not making great progress.

He is not rising above the average but is not falling too far either. He is to be watched with caution and care, encouraged for the good things, told to address as a matter of some urgency the bad things and to look for the development of the inner personality, favouring those character aspects that represent his best options or opportunities and finding the resources around him to favour them too.

Enda Kenny and his government team, the partnership of the two parties, are in that position. They are putting a brave face on what they have achieved. They are making understandable and acceptable apologies for the unfulfilled part of their promised programme at this artificial point of judgment.

The promises were stabs at the stars, justified by the euphoria of a remarkable achievement but not underpinned by sufficient wisdom and strength of character for the task in hand.

It remains questionable whether they are up to it. Kenny is a most likable, optimistic and engaging leader. Eamon Gilmore plays at being the heavyweight but is far from precise in Foreign Affairs. He should be giving us a better and more objective judgment on the new and confrontational position we are necessarily coming to occupy within Europe.

Michael Noonan is constructing his political personality around a desire to be seen as 'a wise man' but without grasping the many nettles in his way. One of those nettles is Leo Varadker, described to me as 'sharp but immature' and should not have given that answer to a hypothetical question about another bailout. He needs to learn the rules about talking to the media.

These men, and all of the others in government, despite the age and experience of several of them, are understandably not yet bedded down. And that is a kind way of putting it. Enda Kenny is by no means sure about how to lead a Government at a time like this and his team, broadly speaking, are as puzzled as he is.

Thursday's quite lively defence of the 100 Days masked the real issue. It revolves around our relationship with Europe and it revolves around the growing need to disentangle that relationship into the two crucial conflicting parts, being in Europe and being in the eurozone.

If, as a result of our long-standing europhile obsession we insist on having both, the impossibility of negotiating our way through eurozone membership under the savage terms which that membership has put us under will turn the road to recovery into a minefield and will destroy us.

The alternative is stark and dramatic: to leave the euro and return to the punt. This would be accompanied by a default on our debts to the extent necessary with provision for the discounted payment of external creditors. It would require us to complete the suspended job of public ownership of the banks and the creation of one functioning bank from the wreckage. There would be nothing wrong in selling that bank to one outside Ireland. We have a stable, systemic example in the country already in the Ulster Bank. And at some future time we could plan for the creation of a second, Irish-owned bank.

This would not undermine nor subvert our sovereignty, or what is left of it. Quite the reverse. A bank is just a bank and look where they have got us. They are certainly no protectors of our sovereignty but are the source of doubt and uncertainty. In fact our sovereignty is currently fully controlled by the EU. The EU calls all the economic shots. it calls them for the EU, not for us. None of these shots is going to work to our advantage.

This kind of thinking was once seen as subversive, anti-national and dangerous for Ireland's future. Since our future is more dangerous than it ever was and is governed from Brussels, we can think differently about changing that. And the reality is that we are thinking differently. This particular debate is taking place within RTE and is the subject of articles by an increasing number of economists.

The radical view on the issue is that the return of the punt, combined with the right level of planned default and accompanied by the sale of the wreckage of the banking system to a foreign bank would give us the new start we need, one that would work better than the trivial and marginal proposals about tinkering with ourselves trapped, as we are, in the eurozone.

How soon would we be back in business as the free, self-governing member of the European Union we once were? Three years? A bit optimistic? Maybe, but nevertheless better than where we are at present.

Compared with Greece -- a country virtually bound to default in much more rugged circumstances than ours -- we are in a secure and stable place. We have just witnessed a remarkable democratic turnaround of Ireland's opportunities through the election of a new team, straightforward in their ambition, to set this country right. All done without a riot!

We benefited from the Celtic Tiger more than we suffered, creating a lasting and efficient infrastructure, demonstrating entrepreneurial skills and the value of a stable, educated young population.

People came here to work and when the work was gone they left. People had jobs and lost them. These currently depressing circumstances can and must be reversed, but not under a burden of debt so great that it will wear everyone out funding it and not by tinkering with marginal issues such as the corporation tax rate and getting a percentage point off bond rates. And if the banks do not help, change them.

Sadly, the radical view is that this will not happen. But attitudes are changing and there is a further task to be done, to change also the radical pessimism about our lack of courage.

Curiously, the deaths of two greatly admired figures, Garret FitzGerald and Brian Lenihan, should be the focus of how minds can alter and reassess history by stating the truth about their faults, in a second breath after the evocation of their qualities.

Garret FitzGerald did not manage politics well, achieving only one effective term in office which he was responsible for ending in near-chaos. He was excessively europhile and a main orchestrator of our joining the euro, possibly the biggest mistake in Ireland's recent history. He worked prodigiously to get Lisbon through and he supported the Fianna Fail/Lenihan policies that led to the bailout. On several occasions he wrote negatively about Anglo-Irish economic relations and trade, seeing Europe, quite mistakenly, as a preferable partner.

Brian Lenihan, such a nice and agreeable man, was blind to the main implications of what he was handling in terms of the banks and of the bailout. He landed us where we are today.

These men, both enjoying a truly remarkable favoured status which has been trumpeted for days on end, left a heritage of misplaced euphoria about Europe and none of their political successors know what to do about it. The kindest thing to say is that we should move on.

Irish Independent