In search of 'a mood swing'
We are a creative people. It goes across every strand of Irishness and reinforces a strong sense of identity. It is reflected in our cultural and artistic imagination. It is to be found within education, science and the world of sport. It is often seen in our ability to be a global player in the world of business and digital development. A troubled past has made us resolute, not afraid to challenge, to think and do differently in a seemingly intractable scenario. It helped forge new relationships North and South on a path to a better way of living on the island of Ireland, despite recent setbacks surrounding the hoisting of a flag. It is evident in resourcefulness and lack of bitterness among those in their 20s – our “Generation Next”.
President Michael D Higgins has noted we are “a country with a network of communities . . . increasingly active in responding to their own, and their society’s, difficulties. We also have the resource of our scattered people around the world, who support each other, and who value their connection with their homeland.” Volunteerism threads the fabric of so many communities, and supports in many guises sustain them. We are a people with a sense of solidarity (and fairness) and inherent strength to articulate and to meet challenges that threaten our communities or local places.
But for too many going into 2013 it is about survival: holding on to or trying to find a job, somehow keeping a business going. For the most disadvantaged it is about keeping their basic human rights.
That is why against this broad backdrop the latest round of austerity – in the form of Budget 2013 – is deeply dispiriting, coming as it did with the implication that we simply had no choice, no opportunity to attempt a rethink on the desperate search for growth, or re-balancing of how best to protect our society and help people through indebtedness while taking our economic medicine and waiting for possible deals in Europe in recompense for our “exemplary behaviour”.
There have been meaningful budget supports for those in business and for employment creation. That was not enough to help the national mood. It is not difficult to see why. Here was a Government that came into office committing itself to reform across every facet of running the State and to engage citizens in a new era of accountability.
Efficiencies and reforms have been achieved under the Croke Park deal. The Personal Insolvency Act gives clarity and a possible way forward for some. But its response largely has been driven by a tunnel-visioned, unrelenting – sometimes to the point of lacking logic – blend of austerity.
It was clear more fiscal punishment was going to dim flickers of confidence. It came as individuals were coming to terms by way of coping with the 2012 mix of tax rates, charges and social welfare levels, and indications of uplift in retailing and in pockets of the property market. It would be naive to suggest Cabinet members were not aware of this impact. But it’s too easy to dismiss the Coalition as becoming more like the doomed administration in office before them. It has few options given macroeconomic conditions, some of which are not of our own making. A troika straitjacket and commitment to protect banks left it with little choice.
The absence of “a new course”, to adopt the phrase of Siptu, which accepts there is no quick fix but set out a range of pragmatic stimulus measures and moves to ease socialised banking debt, has added to the gloom.
Continuing lack of certainty has not helped. Moreover, it can be argued all this has contributed to a growing lack of trust in politicians.
It was gratifying, at least, to hear Taoiseach Enda Kenny declare after the budget he did not accept “we have to be saddled indefinitely with current high rates of unemployment, slow growth and a squeeze on disposable incomes”. Now is the time to break that pernicious spiral.
Evaluation of the current crisis confirms the extent to which some are thinking differently, manifest in remarkable stories of coping across Irish society, epitomised in the taking root of a social entrepreneurship movement.
It would be good if this could help inspire those in government to set a better course, even if manageable, long-term financial pain is accepted. Their task is the most arduous of all. External risks could derail the best-laid plans. A “revision, not climbdown” policy is also warranted where the burden of cuts undermines the dignity of the most vulnerable. There is a view that we are “closer to the end” of an oppressive economic cycle. It is to be hoped that 2013 proves this to be the case and points to re-emergence of a financially independent Ireland – and one where a new course is set in assisting the uplift.