Thursday 23 January 2020

Ian O'Doherty: 'We are leaving a decade many would rather forget, but the Roaring Twenties could be one to remember'

'It’s time to lance this Dáil; a Dáil which will be remembered for the sheer ineptitude and frequent gombeenism of many of its members' Stock picture
'It’s time to lance this Dáil; a Dáil which will be remembered for the sheer ineptitude and frequent gombeenism of many of its members' Stock picture
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

As the clock ticks down to midnight and a weary nation prepares to wave farewell to not just a year but a decade, the mood for many will be one of sombre relief rather than unbridled joy. But we are facing into this new decade in immeasurably better condition than the position we found ourselves on New Year's Eve, 2009.

The last 10 years have become known as the 'Lost Decade' for a good reason.

After all, once the Troika landed in 2010 and began a hostile takeover of this country, we lost our economic sovereignty and with it, a lot of people simply lost hope.

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Jobs vanished overnight, those who managed to keep their jobs had to accept massive pay cuts. Emigration hit levels not seen since the dark days of the 1980s and unemployment topped 15pc.

The fact that former head of the IMF, Ajai Chopra, now admits that we were treated atrociously is scant consolation to those who lost their homes and livelihoods, nor will such belated regrets come as nice mood-music for a generation of young people who now doubt if they will ever own their home.

But compared to that approaching storm of 10 years ago, we're in an undeniably better position economically. If the last decade has been chaotic and depressing, at least we know for sure that there will be plenty of changes in 2020.

With Brexit now an imminent reality rather than a vaguely defined topic which many thought would never happen, at least that means we will see a quicker dissolution of this 32nd Dáil.

The Confidence and Supply Arrangement may have been a necessary requirement, but it inevitably morphed into confidence-in-short-supply as both leaders began to snipe at each other with increasing vitriol.

With rumblings now appearing to suggest that the next election could be as early as February most punters, if not necessarily all the politicians, will be eager to get on with a proper election.

Let's be honest, it's time to lance this Dáil; a Dáil which will be remembered not for the united front it tried to adopt in the face of Brexit, but for the sheer ineptitude and frequent gombeenism of many of its members. This Government will also go down as one of the most unloved regimes in recent times - a weirdly impressive achievement when you consider some of the previous incumbents.

It's a mistake to assume that any government can cure all ills, and there have been times when it was hard not to be reminded of Ronald Reagan's famous expression that: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

But contrary to Reagan's statement, many Irish people can be forgiven for thinking that this Government, through incompetence if not necessarily indifference, can't even manage that. This election will be fought almost exclusively on two fronts, health and housing, and while the economy is in a better position than a decade ago, figures on a spreadsheet are of little consolation to the 10,000 homeless people who now find themselves effectively refugees in their own land.

Similarly, the litany of problems in health, from the CervicalCheck scandal to the vast overspend, even by Ireland's already bloated standards, on the new children's hospital are marks of shame against ministers Eoghan Murphy and Simon Harris.

Ah, but where is the viable alternative?

Fianna Fáil will pray that the Irish voter is in a forgiving mood, and while Eamon Ryan was stretching things when he confidently predicted a Green Taoiseach, there's no doubt that the Roaring Twenties will be the decade when green issues occupy centre stage in public life.

The science is no longer up for debate - I even encountered a bumble bee buzzing around the Christmas trees in the middle of December, which just seemed so wrong on so many levels. But the real question is not about the accuracy of the science but the viability of the policies put in place to counter it.

The plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 seems aspirational at best, but could this be the decade that we finally start to have a serious conversation about nuclear power?

There has long been a reflexive Irish abhorrence towards nuclear energy but sooner or later we have to accept that extraordinary problems need extraordinary solutions and outdated ideologies must be reviewed.

For political anoraks and the casual viewer alike, 2020 promises the weirdest and most vicious American presidential campaign yet. Having spent the last few years predicting his imminent impeachment, Trump's opponents have failed to land a killer blow and despite all expectations it actually looks like he will win next November.

There are two reasons for that. His base now have more money in their pockets than they did under Obama, and then there's the fact that the Democrats have spectacularly failed to conjure an electable candidate.

In much the same way that Corbyn's Labour seemed more interested in asserting its ideological purity than actually winning, too many of the Democratic hopefuls are playing student politics rather than dealing with reality.

On a wider social front, could this be the decade that sees the end of the so-called 'cancel culture'? For all its remarkable benefits, social media has also become a pernicious force in public life and it often seems as if people only use it to get someone sacked.

While we haven't reached the crazed levels of the UK or the US, many people feel that the time is ripe for a backlash against the censorious nature of a culture which now sees women sacked in the UK for asserting that a biological woman is... a woman.

In an age of madness, common sense is a radical position to hold and there is the very real fear that society is beginning to crumble under the weight of its own contradictions. That's unsustainable, but it's also cyclical, and the laws of social gravity insist that things eventually return to a degree of normality.

People now seem further apart than ever before and often for the tiniest reasons, but there is growing resistance to the tail wagging the dog.

There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in the next year, and the idea of the Republic of Ireland actually hosting Euro 2020 games in Dublin in the summer is truly mouth watering.

Even if we don't scrape through the play-offs, the number of young players coming through is genuinely exciting. Good times are ahead.

So a not-so-fond farewell to the 2010s, a decade most of us will be happy to forget.

The trick now is to make the 2020s a decade to remember - and that's down to all of us.

Happy New Year.

Irish Independent

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