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Our political leaders must tell it like it is

As we start another year it is easy to focus on the negatives. Most of the Budget increases in taxes and charges took effect yesterday and the continuing euro crisis means that the economic outlook remains uncertain.

Times are tough and are going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

However, while it is vital that we are fully aware of the problems facing us, it is important to realise that this is not the full story. Record unemployment, sky-high public and private-sector debts, a huge gap in the public finances and a collapse in consumer confidence are only part of the story.

In the midst of all the current gloom it is easy to forget that food and agriculture, by far our largest indigenous industry, is booming, foreign visitor numbers were up by 7pc last year, giving the tourist industry its best year since 2007, while exports from Irish-based multinationals are now running at record levels. Clearly all is not lost.

Unfortunately, while there are some glimmers of hope, our political leaders have still not fully explained the extent of our current predicament.

While it is not all gloom and doom on the economic front, there is still a need for sacrifice on a scale which seems to terrify our politicians. Rather than tell it like it is to the Irish people, our political leaders still persist with platitudes such as Enda Kenny's declaration that "it is not your fault" in his pre-Budget speech.

If the Taoiseach believes that will do him any favours with the Irish people then he could find himself disappointed. It is now clear that the Irish economic and financial crisis began with the August 2007 credit crunch. This means that although we are now well into our fifth year of the calamity our political leaders still seem incapable of devising any kind of credible solution.

Instead this Government, in common with its predecessor, seems to imagine that if it waits long enough the clouds will part, the sun will reappear and we will all be miraculously transported back to the halcyon days of 2006.

That's not going to happen. After almost five years of the worst economic crisis in the history of the Irish State it should now be apparent that the boom years of the early 20th Century were very much the exception rather than the rule. That, even when we do eventually emerge from the economic downturn, Ireland and the world are going to be very different places from what they were in 2006 or 2007.

The future, even when recovery eventually dawns, will be one of lower living standards, reduced expectations and learning how to do more with less. The notion that we can rely on economic growth to deliver the ever-rising living standards and public spending levels we have come to expect as of right is a dangerous delusion in a globalised economy plagued by chronic over-capacity.

Unfortunately, most of our politicians, and not just those in government, still don't "get it". They are still content to peddle the comforting line that, once the unfortunate events of the past few years have been somehow miraculously dealt with, it will be back to business as usual.

It won't because it can't. The world has fundamentally changed since August 2007.

It should be the job of responsible political leadership to drum home these hard facts. Political leaders should be making it clear to their voters that there can be no return to the past. That, instead of pandering to the natural desire of their electorates to let the good times roll once again, they should be emphasising to them that the future will be very different from the past.

While our political leaders are reluctant to level with the Irish public on the extent of the sacrifices that will be required, the irony is that the people themselves would welcome such frankness. It is only when they have been made fully aware of the scale of the tax increases and public spending cutbacks that will be required that the Irish people can begin to face the future with confidence once again.

Irish Independent