Thursday 22 August 2019

Leader with long-term vision will reap benefits as we look to future and remember past

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at an event together last Christmas. Photo: Maxpix
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at an event together last Christmas. Photo: Maxpix

Bertie Ahern

Rebellion was always going to be in the air in the centenary of the Rising. It is fair to say that 2016 has been a year like no other.

The irrational and improbable seemed to win out every time they came up against convention. And so Enda Kenny became the first Fine Gael leader in history to return as Taoiseach in back-to-back elections. Even if it took the unprecedented support of Fianna Fáil to get him over the line.

Continuing in the 'strange but true' vein, England voted to turn on its heels and set its face against Europe, rocking the institution to its foundations and leaving massive question marks over the Border, travel and trade.

The turbulence continued when America voted to turn the world on its head by voting for the political neophyte Donald Trump, forsaking one of the most experienced heads in Washington, Hillary Clinton, and embracing the brash billionaire.

But back to the waters of change lapping at our own shores. The 32nd Dáil resembles one of those old clay tea pots that still manages to pour despite all the cracks.

Every time it gets a shake, you wonder are we all up the spout.

Of course there is a tension here, but Micheál Martin acted in a statesman-like manner when he agreed to back Fine Gael.

The numbers were all over the place. Had we gone back to the country, there was nothing to say that the result would have been any different.

So we might have been facing a third trip to the polls, and where would that have taken us? Look at what transpired in Spain.

Yes, there is political volatility, with the threat that things could be tipped over the edge at any point.

But this is how things have played out, and the challenges are enormous. Ideally the numbers would be more secure and stable, but a return to the tried and tested two-and-a-half-party system will only be achieved by the party that delivers a long-term vision for the country.

A leader who can sow trust and confidence beyond the immediate requirements could reap the rewards for party and country.

I do not believe that the ship of State would fall off the edge of the world were we to look beyond the horizon of the next election.

With so much uncertainty, we need focus. We have to steer a steady course so as not to get tangled up in our anchor chain on Brexit.

Fianna Fáil has been constructive in its approach, but its influence is limited as things stand.

The day before the Budget, it was announced that another €500m was to be pulled out of the hat.

There are a number of threats which have to be managed down the line to keep our finances in order.

The pressure on public pay is acute. The gardaí, teachers, transport workers, and now the nurses, have all set out their cases.

We badly need to rebuild some kind of social partnership to manage expectations and to keep all sides inside the tent. This takes time.

Corporation tax and the dynamic performance of multinationals have helped keep the wheels of the economy turning.

But I would have a concern that we could be overly reliant on this revenue.

In Europe, France and Germany have had a cold eye on our corporate tax rate for some time.

Then across the Atlantic, president-elect Trump has made it very clear that he will do his best to bring US investment home. There is no reason to doubt him.

When I was Taoiseach, we paid a high price for being too dependent on the property sector to boost the coffers.

Our indigenous industry must not be overlooked as we seek to attract foreign direct investment to our shores.

We need to look closer at what we are doing to develop and nurture the food and agricultural sectors.

Our clean environment and our unrivalled produce have a premium value and our dairy industry is unrivalled.

The IDA and Enterprise Ireland do invaluable work in tandem with all this, and we must make sure that we are looking after our own.

In the IT sector, there is also a real need to value and foster our tech companies.

What too often happens is, after a period of incubation when a company proves itself, one of the big conglomerates sweeps in and snaps it up.

Why could we not be keeping them here and building them up ourselves?

Mr Trump will hit the ground running and I have little doubt that his 'Make America Great Again' campaign will throw up opportunities as well as risks, but we have always been adaptable.

Looking to Europe and Brexit, it is less easy to be upbeat.

Earlier I mentioned the need for a long-term political vision, but in Europe this is even more of a problem. A sense of direction and drive is missing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is still an impressive figure but she cannot shoulder the burden indefinitely.

There are no François Mitterands or Helmut Kohls to develop the kind of solidarity and social purpose that bound the union together.

Young people are not aware of the value of an entity such as the EU. We have enjoyed the longest period of peace in the history of the continent, and co-operation and consultation is vital to maintain this.

So, yes, it has been a testing year.

But if those men and women whom we honour this year have taught us anything, it is that we have nothing to fear if we pull together.

Irish Independent

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