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Con Houlihan: Can Enda be a new saviour?

Enda Kenny is a decent and intelligent man. He is left to clean up a mess perpetrated by other decent and intelligent men. Their mistake was that they didn't consult other decent and intelligent men who were far wiser and better qualified than they. It had long been suspected that the advice of top civil servants was ignored; it is out in the open now.

Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, among others, seemingly have retired from politics, but you can hardly say that they are living happily ever after.

Our mothers and fathers knew more about economics: it isn't a complicated science; it was being practised all around me when I was a child. Most of my neighbours ate bacon and potatoes and cabbage about five days a week. They usually had fish on Friday. It was the custom to have red meat on Sunday, either steak or, more usually, boiled beef.

If the woman of the house couldn't afford red meat, she picked out a few hens whose laying life was coming to an end and they sufficed. Like most of our neighbours we bought as little as we could. This, I suppose, was good economics.


We are in debt because we thought the world was enjoying an economic boom and that we should be part of it. Thus people of modest means built or bought houses that they could hardly afford. Some built or bought more than one.

The banks who were caught up in the climate lent money with a freedom that was never known before. Some people say they were greedy; other people said they were generous.

Now we are hearing about the need for a new Ireland, rather along the lines of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the United States. Some people are calling out for a leader, one who will inspire the whole State. Such people do not come overnight. Ireland's last inspirational leader was Daniel O'Connell, who achieved little tangible but gave the people hope.

Our most recent leaders were Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins. They did little more than inspire the people to kill one another. The Civil War seemed to have ended in 1948 when a new government came into power. There was a great feeling of ferment. Land was drained and houses were built. The scourge of tuberculosis was attacked and to a great extent ameliorated.

It was good to be in pubs at the weekends and see men who had long been unemployed spending well-earned money. This to some extent came from the land drainage and building and to an improvement in the status of the farmers.

James Dillon, who had said he wouldn't be seen dead in a cornfield, became Minister for Agriculture and breathed new life into Parliament. And so between 1948 and 1951 we enjoyed the best years of modern Ireland. It all came to an end with an unholy squabble between State and Church centred on the Mother and Child Scheme.

In the meantime we have had ministers in important positions for which they had no qualification, and their reluctance to consult their top civil servants has been costly.

In our youth we are all experts on the economy. In my student days I was certain that I had the answers. A State had its natural resources such as the land and the sea and the mineral wealth. It was my belief that if those were intelligently used, a state could not but prosper; that was if you excluded natural disasters.

The Republic has escaped earthquakes and volcanoes and typhoons but it hasn't prospered. The reason is fairly simple: we have ignored the basic commandment -- to everybody according to his needs and from everybody according to his ability.

This, of course, implies perfectionism in all walks of life but this is hardly ever the case. And yet we can hardly excuse the methods by which the rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer.

The Republic could be described as a capitalist State. Enda Kenny's task is to change around this mentality. How it can be achieved in practical terms isn't easy to answer, but we know that for generations the PAYE workers have been bearing the burden of taxation. The big earners have proven adept at avoiding their fair share of taxation.


This, for Enda and his comrades, will be a long and tedious battle. Rich people are very clever at holding on to what they have. The next generation will be a testing time. It will recall Thomas Paine's famous dictum: "There are times that try men's souls." Our new Government must put State before party. It will take a remarkable mental revolution but without it we will be going nowhere.

In what now seems a long time ago, Alan Dukes made a revolutionary statement: he argued that the duty of an opposition is not to oppose but to support every act that seems creative. This was called the Tallaght Strategy. It cost Alan his place as leader of Fine Gael. One day at a pre-election meeting in Newbridge it led to a wonderfully illogical piece of heckling. When Alan paused for effect in the middle of a very practical speech, the famous little old man in the crowd shouted out "What did you ever do for Tallaght?"

Fogra: Congratulations to Tomas and Emer on the birth of their son Tomas Declan Branigan Greally on February 9. May his days be filled with joy