Shortall resignation a distraction from bigger issues
INSIDE POLITICS: Conflict between individual Ministers is overshadowed by the problem of our crushing level of indebtedness
AT THE bottom of the stairs leading to the Dáil chamber there is a glass box in which significant documents from our political and parliamentary history are placed on display. The latest item in the series is a momentous one indeed: the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
The terms of the agreement are familiar to many people, but the requirement for an oath of fidelity to the British monarch still makes one pause to reflect on all the strife, suffering and death in the civil war that ensued over that searing provision.
Yet you have only to climb the stairs to the chamber to see the two sides in that tragic internal conflict, since labelled Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, engaging in robust but peaceful debate. In another section are seated the members of Sinn Féin, including deputies who have served long prison terms for IRA offences.
The moral of the story is that politics works, but you have to keep trying. Sinn Féin, for example, would still be the IRA’s brass band if a whole range of people had not been willing to put time, effort and endless patience into the peace process.
One of those responsible for that seismic shift, former US Senator George Mitchell, featured in a remarkable television documentary on the BBC this week in which he took his 14-year-old son, Andrew, around Northern Ireland to see the changes that have come about since that eventful Good Friday of April 1998.
The assets Mitchell brought to the table included civility, forbearance and the long view of history. Maybe we need to recruit him to assist us in getting out of our current economic imbroglio.
The news from the European mainland this week was fairly devastating. The bright hopes for a significant easing of the bank debt on our shoulders were dealt a severe blow in a negative joint message put out by the finance ministers of Germany, Finland and the Netherlands.
There were moments like that in the peace process as well, such as the breakdown of the first IRA ceasefire, when the future looked bleak and it took genuine leadership on all sides to bring Northern Ireland back from the brink. Likewise, this State clearly needs cross-party unity and a united political voice to persuade our European partners that “the best pupil in the class” should be awarded the equivalent of a scholarship – appropriate further measures to get us through these difficult times.
There was a healthy debate in the Dáil after the news broke. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin and Independent TD Shane Ross highlighted the issues with considerable eloquence. Taoiseach Enda Kenny was on the back foot but he held firm and declared his intention to continue pressing Ireland’s case at European level.