PAUL MILLS: Paul Mills: Amid the risks, our leaders need to up their game

As the events of 2016 have already shown, 2017 seems already spoken for.

Whether we appreciate it or not, the countdown for 2017 has already begun. It began as soon as we finished our Christmas lunch.

The coming of the annual winter sales just underpinned the fact that we are at that time of the year again.

This is the time when we can, if we wish, define the start of the new year as an opportunity to try and make a new beginning, to do something different, to make amends for past mistakes.

Many of us will make new year resolutions which will probably not survive January 1.

Nevertheless, it would be nice to think that our leaders might take the opportunity to review their past performance and try and up their game, to do things better than they did the previous year and to work for the whole country rather than those who vote for them. Unfortunately, that is not likely to be.

As we move into 2017, we can be sure that events will likely follow on from 2016.

As 2016 was full of surprises and indeed indications of serious changes to come, we must hope that our leaders take cognisance of these facts when they make the difficult decisions that have to be taken.

They already know we are a small country on the periphery of Europe. Exporting high-value goods and services produced in Ireland is vitally important to our economic sustainability.

When dealing with the myriad issues the leaders will need to take the long-term interests of this nation into account.

They will be tempted to duck issues. They must, at all costs, resist the temptation. We will know if they are statesmen rather than simple political hacks whose only objective is to survive to pension age.

Unfortunately for them and even more so for the rest of us, the internal issues that must be dealt are particularly difficult.

The last thing they need now is to tie an anchor of long-term commitments around the neck of a taxpayer who is far from happy and not in any position to accommodate further demands.

They have pay demands from their own employees in the public sector driven by their backing down over pay demands from the gardaí. They cannot afford to concede any further.

The way they deal with Irish Water, the fallout from Apollo House, the ongoing recidivist behaviour of the banks, the approval to build more than 300 pylons across the countryside in the north-east despite the objections of the vast bulk of the local community, and a myriad of other banana skins will have a bearing on our ability to withstand challenges and to the survival of the Government.

This may be far from being the best Government we’ve ever had but the uncertainties of a general election, particularly when it’s likely to result in even more divergent parties, independents, and mé féiners, does not bear consideration.

Major geopolitical decisions in the coming months will affect our economy, the EU’s, and possibly that of the entire world.

At home, our biggest concern by a country mile is that of Brexit.

Given the implications for Europe already in turmoil from populism, the effects of the recession, half-baked decisions by Angela Merkel, and a general and understandable dissatisfaction with the EU, it’s hard to see Europe permitting a soft-Brexit.

The EU is hardly going to allow Britain to have all of the benefits of the EU without any of the downsides.

Given the continuing major importance of the British market to this country, the implications are enormous.

Irish manufacturers and food growers are already feeling the effects even though the Brexit button has still not been pressed.

We can only anticipate the impact of the actual event.

Another challenge is the election of Donald Trump.

The policies he has articulated on trade agreements, on taxation, on foreign direct investment, on dealing with immigrants in the US, and on foreign policy are frightening. His benign view of Vladimir Putin and Russia are extraordinary.

His choice of a cabinet of fellow billionaires with views that coincide more with their new boss rather than mainstream opinion make for a very uncertain future.

To protect us in this time of great uncertainty, we need a Government here that is stable, not easily rattled and has the bottle to hold its ground.

Those who would try to undermine our economy by undermining the Government given the uncertainty that now exists should reconsider their position.

As the Chinese say: “May you live in interesting times.”

The fear is that the times may be far too interesting.

Despite all of these fears, I wish you and yours a prosperous New Year.


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