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Thursday, March 08, 2012
It is slightly unfortunate that this Government’s first report card was marked just as celebrations to mark the centenary of the Titanic’s sinking gathered momentum.
Making that connection may be a tad trite but pointing out that as Taoiseach Enda Kenny finalised his assessments, job fairs in Dublin and Cork came under siege by people looking for work, putting our grim situation in a very challenging perspective.
Even the late John B Keane, our great chronicler of weakness and greed, could not have constructed an irony as chastening as the one seen in the RDS last weekend when Fianna Fáil held a supposedly redemptive ard fheis in the same complex as a hiring fair run by Canadian state governments.
The jobs crisis, the daunting, unfair, unresolved debt crisis and a stagnating economy present this Government and society with challenges far beyond the scale of anything seen in modern times. That may be the context but what of the performance, what about the response to this chaos?
There’s not been, in living memory, a Government that inherited a situation as fraught or an electorate as angry. This anger is based on a range of broken election promises — "we’ll burn the bondholders" — and a plethora of cuts and new taxes.
Unemployment and families struggling to meet debt obligations on greatly reduced incomes are a natural and growing part of that anger too. The inequity supported by the Croke Park deal — no pay cuts or redundancies in the public sector but daily cuts in the private sector — has played a role in darkening the mood too.
We are assured that progress has been made under the deal but so much more is needed and at a pace that seems beyond the capability of our public institutions. This issue, in time, may prove to be the greatest failing of Mr Kenny’s Government but it is still too early to judge. Even so, the indications are that the radicalism needed has not been imposed. And, unfortunately, imposed is the right word.
All of the election promises can be concentrated in one word — recovery. It would be less than realistic to expect that to be achieved in 12 months. However, the stability needed to begin that recovery may have been established — as yesterday’s slightly improved employment figures hinted. But we all know, as do the Government, that much more needs to be done.
At this point, it seems possible to predict with a degree of certainty that a second bailout will be needed and in that circumstance a strong relationship with Europe will be essential. Mr Kenny and his Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, have worked patiently — despite provocation — to enhance that relationship while at the same time trying to secure less draconian terms on our debts. This is a high-wire act requiring the sharpest political and diplomatic skills. Indications in recent days suggest that these efforts may soon bear fruit and if they do it would be a considerable achievement. It would also open options to Government that are not currently available and possibly make some anticipated cuts unnecessary.
Of course there is a degree of artificiality about this exercise. It took us decades to get to where we are and, unfortunately, it will take some considerable time before our fortunes might improve. It will be four years, unless events intervene, before we have a general election. Equally chastening is the realisation that our position in the European power stakes is not as influential as we might like. Our Government understands this and acts accordingly. Doing the same may be the best option we have at the moment.
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