It’s not quite a century, just 96 years, since Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock was introduced at the Abbey.
However, the piece, set in Dublin’s tenements while our civil war sowed its poisons, is more relevant than it should be despite almost a century of political independence and ever-growing prosperity.
In the coming while politicians will canvas for votes. Some, perhaps most, will exaggerate, beating their drums to suggest we have not moved as far from 1924 as we should have. Others will with equal certainty argue that this journey is endless and that we are making O’Casey’s worldview an anachronism.
Despite that conflict, one element of that play that cannot be dismissed is the pertinence of its closing line, one entrusted to a drunk and defeated Jack:
“The whole world is in a terrible state o’ chassis”. His response to challenges is to pass out in the hope that when he wakes things might have, in a mysterious, unexplainable way, improved.
In today’s world that may seem an attractive option to some of those entrusted with building and sustaining relationships and midwifing the mutually-beneficial kind of compromise.
Yet, in the dawning days of a new decade it is not hard to see that the pendulum must swing from bombastic politicians shaped by short-term objectives back towards skilled, committed and informed diplomats.
It hardly seems an exaggeration to suggest that diplomacy, on international and smaller stages, must have a good decade if Jack’s state o’ chassis parting shot is not to become all too real.
Neither is it difficult to imagine diplomats, derided as the deep state, cringing as Twitter outbursts usurp considered argument or as resurgent English nationalism paints them into impossible corners.
Neither is it difficult to imagine the trepidation EU negotiators feel when they consider the latest Brexiteer tirade.
It seems more than ironic that the two countries that secured hegemony through, among many things, all-seeing diplomacy are pulling up drawbridges.
President Donald Trump sidelines diplomacy and mutually beneficial international agreements. He has downgraded America’s state department and attacked its committed staff. He has welched on international trade, nuclear and environmental deals.
He seems oblivious to the dangerous consequences of emasculating the United Nations.
He blithely gave two fingers international law when he recognised illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. This is not reassuring for those in America’s slipstream.
The same dynamic applies to Brexit. This, a profound rejection of diplomacy, an implosion in the face of complexity will weaken the European Union and especially Britain in the backrooms where all consequences must be weighed before real, life-changing decisions are made.
Hardly a win-win.
The same tribalism posing as politics continues to fester in Northern Ireland just as decisions as profound as any made since the establishment of that entity are made far, far away from the Bann or the Lagan.
These, and many other examples, suggest an urgent rebalancing.
This should be a decade of real, grown-up diplomacy — and possibilities should again replace confrontation.