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Irish families -- the ties that truly bind us

Tomorrow we celebrate Christmas. As they enjoy the festivities, most Irish families will look back on what was by any yardstick an extraordinarily difficult year.

The live register remains at close to record levels, with one in every seven workers being unemployed; the economic growth we experienced in the first half of the year has petered out; consumer confidence remains on the floor; while uncertainty over the future of the euro continues to mount.

However, by far the most remarkable thing about the past year is not what happened but what didn't happen.

Unlike Greece or Italy, there were no riots on the streets. This was despite the Irish people enduring five hairshirt Budgets in the space of just over three years and suffering austerity of a severity that has yet to be visited upon our Mediterranean brethren.

Clearly there exists within us a hitherto largely unsuspected toughness and resilience which is standing us in good stead during these difficult times.

That is not to say that we Irish meekly accepted the consequences of more than a decade of spectacular economic mismanagement. Far from it, but instead of indulging in riot or tumult, we exacted our revenge through the medium of the ballot box.

In last February's general election, Fianna Fail, the party which had dominated Irish politics for the previous 80 years, lost three-quarters of its Dail seats and was reduced to the status of a third-party rump.

The virtual destruction of Fianna Fail, with the party receiving a lower percentage share of the vote than the old Irish parliamentary party received in the December 1918 general election, was by almost any measure a seismic event.

This is something which would have required a revolution in most other countries. But not in Ireland.

Instead we consigned the party that had dominated Irish politics for over three-quarters of a century to the scrapheap of history without a stone being thrown and with barely a voice raised in anger.

Our ability to achieve such significant change in a strictly constitutional manner is evidence that, despite experiencing the most severe economic crisis since independence in 1921, Irish society possesses deep underlying strengths that are serving us well in these extremely difficult times.

Our dysfunctional State may be at sixes and sevens, the economy a basket case, but the deeper ties, those of family, kinship, social and professional groups, sporting organisations and the voluntary sector have proved to be far more resilient.

It is these deeper ties that have allowed us to weather the current storm so well. In the great historical scheme of things, at just 90 years of age, the Irish State is a mere stripling.

Long before independence, Irish society developed a wide range of autonomous organisations and institutions that, in the absence of an independent Irish State, provided us with outlets through which to express our national identity.

Political independence and the creation of an Irish State seemed to provide the Irish people with a new focus for their loyalties.

But, while the older ties were temporarily eclipsed, they never quite disappeared, lying dormant beneath the surface.

Now by a supreme irony, with the current crisis having so dramatically exposed the shortcomings of the Irish State, it is these deeper ties that are providing the vital social glue that we need to help us make it through the current crisis.

The fiscal collapse we have experienced since 2007 has served as a much-needed reminder that we cannot expect to rely on the State to provide for all of our needs and that we must be more self-reliant in future.

For the hundreds of thousands of people who have either lost their jobs or face the very real prospect of losing their homes, all too often it has not been the State but family and friends who have come to their assistance in their hour of need.

Up and down the country people are rediscovering the value of these deeper ties. When, as we will, overcome our present difficulties, it will be with a renewed appreciation of the value of these deeper ties.

They are, in a very real sense, the ties that bind.

Irish Independent