If each of us stepped away, even for a few moments, from our tribal, almost genetic, political or trade union loyalties, and considered two issues objectively, we might have to ask questions that would, if we could sustain that novel level of detachment, have chastening answers.
The answers to the political element of those questions would show that old, patronising guffaw about Irish people being one of the most sophisticated electorates in the democratic world up for the cynical stomach-tickling it really is. Those answers would also show how short our memories are and how unrealistic our expectations, especially in terms of how long it might take to turn the economy around, are.
It would tragically suggest, too, that political loyalties are sustained by an emotional, rather than a rational, process. After all, how else could Fianna Fáil, despite the U-turns and poor performances of the incumbents on some issues, once again be the most popular party in the Republic they and their banker/developer friends bankrupted and all but destroyed? How could a turnaround like this — Fianna Fáil topped a second opinion poll yesterday — take place just two years after the most humiliating election in Fianna Fáil’s history? That question is especially pertinent in the immediate wake of the bank debt deal, one almost universally recognised — even by Fianna Fáil — as being as good, as extensive, as we might have hoped for.
Can this rapprochement with the devil we know just be about the Coalition’s regrettable stumbling in the first two years of a possible five-year term, or is it something else? Is it a return to the kind of division that has nothing to do with politics but everything to do with tribe and inherited positions? If it is, it seems we have not learnt the lessons of the last decades and that we are likely to make all the same mistakes again.
All governments lose popularity as they approach mid-term and this one, especially because balancing the books is and will be such a painful experience, is no exception, but that hardly explains how Fianna Fáil can enjoy such an early resurgence.
Trade unionists, if they were to ask this week’s obvious question and answer it objectively, might have to differentiate between possibility and expectation.
As talks about extending the Croke Park deal begin to get to the meat of the argument, some union leaders have almost threateningly declared that they will not countenance pay cuts. This assertion, no matter how admirable and desirable, is made despite the fact that public sector pay and pensions, as well as welfare payments, cannot be sustained without Ireland Inc borrowing something around €12bn a year — or, if you prefer, €50m every working day. Those figures must be tackled if we are not to find ourselves dependent on the expensive kindness of strangers again. That is the cold, distressing reality, but yet some labour leaders suggest it can be avoided.
Opinions must change as realities evolve and, unless they do, then failure is almost inevitable. Political loyalties — to any party or government — should be based on performance, and judged over a full term in office. Equally, expectations brought to talks on Croke Park II must recognise the world we live in today. How we resolve these difficult issues will go a long way to defining how, or if, we rebuild this country. If they are resolved objectively and fairly then we may not repeat the mistakes of the past. If they are not, we have only ourselves to blame.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved
More in this section