WHERE MOTLEY IS WORN ?
2016 promises to be interesting with the 1916 Centenary celebrations, the pending General Election and the June UEFA Soccer Championship Finals in France plus whatever else may come.
It marks the Centenary of the Easter Rising – which has made us what we are. Already books by the score have appeared or been signalled about every aspect of the Rising and its legacy. Expect more, as well as a calendar of celebratory events, on the ground and in the media. For if ever a poet got it right Yeats did so with his phrase “ All changed, changed utterly.” The Easter Rising certainly did that.
And if one thing is a racing certainty it is that the commemorations will be accompanied by an orgy of breast beating and navel gazing about whether and to what extent Ireland today has lived up to, or fallen short of, the ideals of 1916. Some of this, of course, is not new. For example, the phrase in the Proclamation “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally,” has been used for years to attack successive governments for the evident disparities of opportunity between children of different wealth and class. Woe betide anyone who queries its literal meaning – surely metaphorical – or some of the other wording in the Proclamation, such as the reference to support from “gallant allies in Europe.”
Arguably every History-of-Ireland book written about post -1916 Ireland has touched on the topic. Suffice to say here that “We are where we are,” which is a reasonably prosperous and stable Western European democracy which has managed to exorcise over time most of its demons, historical, religious, social and societal. It’s a long way short of perfect, but I haven’t noticed many perfect societies around.
This is also Election Year, with the centenary likely to add spice to opposition rhetoric. February seems the probable election date, with Enda Kenny overwhelming favourite to remain Taoiseach (nine to two on). Interestingly also the odds against the current coalition being returned have shortened significantly to nine to two against, though the odds on a Fine Gael/Fianna Fail government remain shorter.
What is indisputable is that Enda Kenny is one lucky general. He almost pulled off victory in 2007. Had he done so he would have been sunk without trace when the slump hit. In 2011 he got the Taoiseach’s job, gift wrapped as Fianna Fail imploded, and with the bonus that most of the heavy lifting to sustain and revive the economy had already been done by the two Brians. Early on his government secured an improved deal from the ECB which gave it some wiggle room and it enjoyed a lengthy honeymoon period with considerable benefit of the doubt from the public.
The latest indicators are that the economy bottomed out in late 2010, grew slightly for several years and has now surged ahead at a pace far faster than anticipated by most economists. Partly this has been due to the recovery of the world economy, which has produced a wave of inward investment, generating jobs. The scale of the recovery, otherwise, suggests that, leaving aside the bank catastrophe, many elements in the economy were sound and in position to bounce back rapidly, with the cuts imposed helping to improve the country’s competitiveness.
But, again to demonstrate how lucky Kenny has been, important additional factors aiding recovery have been the sustained period of historically low interest rates worldwide and the decline in energy and commodity costs, all of which helped Ireland’s recovery and, inter alia, made servicing the annual debt much less burdensome than in years past. In short the economies and cuts, though painful, could have been much worse.
The jury is still out on whether the government is getting its message across. Even with economic growth touching 7% – almost Celtic Tiger rates – the opinion polls don’t demonstrate great enthusiasm for the Coalition. Fine Gael seems steady at around 30% but Labour has yet to sustain the 10% level most commentators consider essential to translate into a significant number of seats. The combined magic number is 80 and with Fine Gael currently looking at around 60 there is some way to go. Uncertainty still abounds. However, it is still the phoney war period. Electioneering will not begin in earnest until January when the New Year budget concessions will certainly do Labour no harm. The stability factor is incalculable but could also prove significant.
We will shortly be presented with the various party election manifestoes and promises. Much of the middleclass anger of 2011 has gone but this time around expect a new edge to demands from the far left, targeting in particular disillusioned Labour supporters. The polls suggest significant dissatisfaction with the traditional parties but how that will play out in terms of actual voter support for independents and small parties is unclear. The Government will stand by its record, but perhaps it should consider a couple of sweeteners, which, given the buoyant state of the country’s finances, it can well afford.
The Government has made mistakes – Irish Water being a prime example. Few doubt the need for overhauling and modernising an antiquated water system to bring it into the Twenty First Century but the quango that is Irish Water proved a political disaster from the off, rallying and focussing discontent, especially on the left and seriously damaging Labour in particular. Its future may be up for grabs with several opposition parties already shouting for its abolition post- election. There is surely a strong political case for the Government to limit electoral damage pre-election by finding a way to fudge, with the promise of suspending domestic charges while the system’s chronic leaks are addressed, thus removing water as an election issue.
Secondly, there is the nation’s health. Here unfair and frankly immoral wrongs were done to the most vulnerable during the austerity years, ranging from cuts in home help and assistance to carers, deprival of discretionary medical cards and other associated cutbacks, all adversely affecting the quality of life of the many affected. These were done in preference to increasing taxes or cutting benefits elsewhere on those better able to cope. The money to remedy this is now there. What is required is a manifesto commitment by the Coalition parties to restore the 2007 situation in those areas by the end of this year. Whatever about any political gain this is the right thing to do.
Finally in June there are the UEFA soccer finals. Ireland qualified after emerging from a difficult group. The main scalp in qualification was world champion Germany, whom Ireland tied in Germany and defeated in Dublin. Four years ago a poor Ireland team were outclassed in the last UEFA finals. This time around we face world number one Belgium and the always difficult Italy. Yet both underperformed at the last World Cup and there is a rising feeling that Ireland could cause a shock or two. There are inevitable comparisons being drawn with World Cup 1990 when Ireland achieved heroics at a time when the economy was on the turn after a difficult time. Perhaps history will do a repeat?