Sunday 15 December 2019

Will O'Dea: Heroes give us hope and teach us a valuable lesson

Everyone has a role to play in our economic recovery, writes Willie O'Dea, including the gloomy commentators

Without a doubt the story of the week, if not the year, was the remarkable rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners. It was a rescue that had once seemed improbable, if not downright impossible.

The rescue bid had 33 major objectives and, incredibly, achieved them all. The 33 miners, initially presumed dead, are now reunited with their families and loved ones.

It is a story full of real heroes -- not only the 33 miners themselves, but also their families who never lost faith, and the engineers and technicians who devised the rescue.

The miners' shift foreman and leader emerged speaking not of the difficulties or traumas they faced, but rather of their strength, their spirit, and their determination to fight and to survive.

For the Chilean people, the flawless rescue has been a source of delight, unity and enormous pride. It might also be the opportunity for the country and its people to put General Pinochet and the pain he inflicted on the country behind them.

Members of the Irish commentariat have seen the whole episode as a potential metaphor for the economic problems we face. They rightly talk of the rescue as a triumph of the human spirit and its capacity for hope, but then they completely miss the point and complain that the spirit of hope witnessed in Chile is lacking here, in Ireland.

They speak in justifiably glowing terms of Chile's unity of purpose and spirit of hope, but then appear impervious to the self-fulfilling nature of the negative, doom and gloom commentary they have been churning out themselves.

What happened in Chile was a community, a region, and then a country, coming together to ensure that the miners would be rescued.

The unity and determination of everyone across Chile, from the president right down to those who volunteered and entertained the children at Camp Hope was truly inspiring. I don't know if Chile has its equivalent of Liveline or the late-night talk shows, but if it does, their siren voices were not allowed to drown out the voices of hope.

It is, of course, possible to over-stretch the Chilean comparison beyond anything reasonable, but the lesson I would draw from what we saw at the San Jose mine is that everyone has a role to play in this country's recovery -- commentators and pundits included.

I am not suggesting that we should have some sort of Pollyanna-style commentary that filters out the bad and only looks at the good. Critical analysis and coverage is vital, but let it be based on solid evidence and fair and accurate reporting.

The often black-and-white nature of the reporting here can mean complex data is misinterpreted to almost doomsday scenarios.

We should not be naive. These reports at home are beamed around the world and can influence the business decisions of foreign investors and multinational companies.

The economic analysts and talking heads who daily hold forth on our situation have almost the same capacity to promote or undermine confidence in our economy as our elected leaders -- but without the pressure of scrutiny and peer analysis.

So, they are not in a position to bemoan any lack of confidence to which they themselves have also contributed.

Yes, we still have difficult choices and unpalatable decisions ahead, but the tough decisions made in 2008 and 2009 have stopped the decline in our fortunes and are already providing the basis for our economic recovery.

Yes, we face some daunting challenges; but we undoubtedly have the ability, the capacity and spirit within ourselves to overcome them, once we give ourselves the room to believe it.

Willie O'Dea is a Fianna Fail TD for Limerick east

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