The Irish Times view on Ireland after Covid-19: No going back to old habits

How does the experience of the pandemic help to shape our collective sense of what we want to be?

One of the things that has sustained us through this grim time has been the idea that we would not merely go back to our old bad habits when this crisis was over. Now we have to begin to put that resolution to the test. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/ Reuters

One of the things that has sustained us through this grim time has been the idea that we would not merely go back to our old bad habits when this crisis was over. Now we have to begin to put that resolution to the test. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/ Reuters

 

The fog of the pandemic has not yet lifted, but the light is gradually returning. Even tempered by all the necessary caution, we can begin to think about what a post-Covid-19 Ireland should look like.

One of the things that has sustained us through this grim time has been the idea that we would not merely go back to our old bad habits when this crisis was over. Now we have to begin to put that resolution to the test.

There is, in any case, no going back to a stable status quo. Even without the coronavirus, Ireland was facing a series of profound challenges. It is still in search of a coherent set of public values to replace the religious tenets and systems that, in so many ways, defined the State. The use of tax incentives as the primary driver of economic development is becoming increasingly untenable.

The pandemic has taught us that many more things are possible than we had imagined. That is a frightening thought, but it should also be a heartening one

The political culture in which Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael exercised an effective duopoly is dead. The ideology in which the market held all the answers has run out of road, most obviously in the crucial area of housing.

The need to meet our commitments on climate change would itself demand a revolution in the way we do things. And then, of course, there is Brexit, which has set in train large but unpredictable changes in the whole political architecture of these islands.

For all these reasons, the State was already in urgent need of a fresh vision. How does the experience of the pandemic help to shape our collective sense of what we want to be?

Cruel as that experience has been, it should also give us some grounds for optimism. The shock of so many deaths in nursing homes and residential care has brought home the imperative that nobody should be rendered invisible. It is surely obvious that one of our core values must be that all lives matter equally.

The values of public service have been demonstrated in the quiet dedication of those working in healthcare, education, policing and other areas, showing how a genuine spirit of patriotism is alive and well – if it can be harnessed by good leadership. The working-at-home revolution has shown how, if it is guided by the needs of people and communities, a much richer sense of place can be created.

The outlines of the much more balanced geographic spread of population and work that we have been crying out for are now discernible. The intense appreciation of the physical world that has come from our experience of confinement can make us determined to reverse the decline of our island’s beautiful environment.

The pandemic has taught us that many more things are possible than we had imagined. That is a frightening thought, but it should also be a heartening one.

If we can forge a social and political consensus on the big challenges we face, we can meet them with confidence.

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