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'Prague Spring' brings new hope

Could it really be the case that after years of unrelenting bleakness Ireland is finally beginning to experience a small 'Prague Spring'? It might appear strange to suggest the bonfire of the follies created by vainglorious businessmen such as Derek Quinlan and Sean Quinn is a positive sign.

However, though painful for the individuals concerned, it is good for society that they are seen to pay the price for the fabulous carelessness with which they ran their affairs.

It would collapse the fractured psyche of our depressed country even further if, like so many other vested elites, from bishops to bankers and top civil service mandarins, they were to escape unscathed from the consequences of their actions.

Our 'Prague Spring' was not just confined to the fiscal defenestration of the former confidantes of the so-called 'great and the good'. Less than a year ago, the EU and the IMF came to town, ripped off the emperor's clothes of a dissembling FF government, and confirmed we had finally become the basket case FF's endemic incompetence had been threatening to reduce us to for several decades.

Last week, in the aftermath of the latest IMF/EU visitation, Michael Noonan noted we had cleared the first hurdle of our recovery plan. There are plenty more fences and quite a few sorrowful mysteries to come, but it is a real change when an Irish government is commended for its 'decisive approach' to reform. And there was no shortage of other strange phenomena, as two of our much-maligned public sector unions voted against striking to secure the return of lost benefits, while a high-profile property auction in the Shelbourne succeeded beyond all expectations.

One of the many flaws Brian Cowen's government of dyspeptic misfits suffered from was its inability to recognise the importance of theatre in politics. The black hole we sleepwalked our way towards means any government's room for manoeuvre is limited. But administrations should, at a minimum, create the illusion of the sort of leadership that might sustain these brittle buds of hope.

Excessive confidence can, particularly when aligned by the sort of trickery patented by Bertie Ahern, be a malign force. However, in a depressed state such as ours, it can also be 'the golden string' that leads to 'heaven's gate'. Ironically, another Irishman provided the world with the most recent demonstration of the importance of confidence when for 63 holes of the Augusta Masters the insouciant young golfing prince Rory McIlroy had the ball on a golden thread. But when McIlroy lost his confidence he imploded over the final nine holes.

When it comes to the Sisyphean task of returning Ireland to a place called hope, to be fair, our new Government has shaped up well. It will, however, have to be careful, for the sort of reform it hopes will build confidence has many enemies. Sadly, most of them are internal and many are embedded in the rotten heart of Ireland's system of government.

The location of such enemies should remind our new troika of Kenny, Noonan and Howlin that it can take more than the sort of fine words Irish politicians are far too fond of to build up the morale of the people. Instead confidence is more often established by leadership and the tough politics of 'boot, bollock and bile'. Messrs Noonan, Howlin and Kenny will have to display plenty of those qualities over the next few seminal months if our 'Prague Spring' is not to suffer the same tragic ending as the brave Czechs in 1968.

Sunday Independent