Leaving Cert a defining point for many young lives
THROUGHOUT THE country, the 60,000 students who have just completed the Leaving Cert exams are celebrating after reaching what for many is the defining point of their young lives. They now have the freedom to view the world and what it has to offer - sadly it isn't a pretty picture. They have been told since the day they walked in the door of junior infants' class that education is the key to success and if they knuckle down to their studies and do well in their exams they will most likely do well in life.
They have taken the message on board, sweated through the punishing points race and now, for better or worse, the die is cast and as they await their results in August they have the leisure to contemplate what life has to offer.
The great tragedy of our time is that there isn't a lot on offer for those who have just completed the Leaving Cert - the bright young things who are so often referred to as the future of the country. For some, the end of the Leaving Cert exams means an end to their educational careers. A few years ago they might have looked at taking up apprenticeships in a trade.
But there won't be any jobs for plumbers, electricians and blocklayers around here for quite a while yet and so the choice this country is able to offer them at the tender age of 18 years is sign on for the dole or buy a plane ticket and join the 50,000 others who will quit Ireland this year in search of work and opportunity in England, Australia, America - anywhere but home.
The great majority of this year's crop of Leaving Cert students, however, will go on to third level education and their parents will somehow find the money to pay for them. In four or five years time they will emerge to be counted among what we like to call Ireland's young, highly educated workforce.
The only problem is that they will be a workforce without work and the chances are that many of them will head off to join their classmates in the bars and building sites of London, New York and anywhere that will have them.
It is nothing short of a national tragedy that we don't have more to offer our young and, on top of that, that we are so limited in our ability to make things better for them.
A decade of reckless excess has left the country impoverished and stripped of our sovereign authority. The powerbrokers in the EU/IMF now decide where our government can spend and where it must make cutbacks. We are living on their money and, along with imposing loanshark interest rates, they expect us to account for every cent we spend.
We are enduring relentless and progressively savage cutbacks and still it isn't enough. Ireland will have to borrow €18 billion this year just to keep the country ticking over, and this will bring our total national debt to something around a staggering €173 billion by the end of the year. In December we will have another budget of cuts and tax increases, but the €3.6 billion it will save looks ever less likely to arrest the country's downward spiral.
The harsh reality is that our future will be decided by people and events that are outside our control. If the EU/IMF relax their bailout interest rate and if our government is given the nod to force bondholders to share the cost of our banks' recklessness, then our fortunes will improve and we just might stand a fighting chance.
Just like the Leaving Cert students who will have to look outside of Ireland for opportunities, the country is now dependent on the generosity of strangers. We can only hope that they do prove generous.