Thursday 23 January 2020

Editorial: 'New Year must bring new hope for the vulnerable'

Many levels of society still smart from deep scars of housing and health crises. Stock Image
Many levels of society still smart from deep scars of housing and health crises. Stock Image


A decade ago in these columns, as the hands were moving across the face of the clock, we gratefully bade good riddance to 2009.

It was classed as one of our most traumatic years.

It yet evoked vivid memories of lacerating austerity budgets, Nama, biting levies, election wipe-out and economic meltdown.

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Today you are likely to hear platitudes such as "you can do little to change the date or time, but your attitude and choices are yours alone".

The past 10 years have seen exceptional transformation. Governments will take credit as is their due, but the heroes of the hour have to be the ordinary workers of the country.

They absorbed the biggest transfer of private debt onto their shoulders in recent economic history.

A steely sense of service and self-reliance replaced any smug Celtic Tiger sense of entitlement, or expectation.

It was that readiness to take the pain and grind on that made the difference when the lights were very nearly switched off.

Since 2014, the economy has grown by more than 50pc.

This puts us ahead of China in the global growth charts.

We are set to be the top performing economy in the European Union for a sixth straight year.

The good news comes with buts. There is a risk of an over-reliance on multinational transactions.

Should the golden tax windfalls suddenly stop falling from the corporate tree, how will the public purse cope? Brexit is also still problematic. The prospects of velvet smooth free-trade talks between London and Brussels seem unlikely.

For all that, the ESRI still classes the country's economic performance as "remarkable".

When you think as recently as 2012 our unemployment rate was 16pc, and is now running at just 4.8pc, it is hard not to be impressed.

It is necessary to remind ourselves when you tell a story purely in numbers, it is easy to lose sight of the very real human figures behind them.

Those sleeping in doorways, tents and alleys also count. Many levels of society still smart from the deep scars of housing and health crises.

These twin issues will have a direct impact on the results of the upcoming election.

Delivering more affordable homes and hospital beds must be the most urgent political priorities.

Surely this is not beyond us?

Any party comfortable with the idea the elderly or the young can be left out of the equation when it comes to the basics of living, will reap a political whirlwind.

As the economy recovers we must not allow ourselves to forget how widespread vulnerability still is in society.

There is a seductive school of thought which places New Year resolutions as slumbering pipe-dreams better left undisturbed.

But if we can do more for those with less, perhaps we should be stirred to do so.

Happy New Year.

Irish Independent

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