Facing our reality - Honesty the only policy we can afford

One man’s truth is another’s delusion.

One man’s certainty is another man’s deep, dark void of doubt. Different people believe different, conflicting things, each advancing their position as an absolute. Sometimes people get so swept away by high ideals, by ideals so movingly powerful that they make honest, essential objectivity more than difficult.

Over the last five years, since our economy was destroyed, we’ve had analysis after analysis, strident declaration after strident declaration and, if there was a market for delusion, more than enough of it to fund a spectacular and more or less immediate recovery.

Surely, after half a decade of public discourse on the crisis it is reasonable to hope that contributions should be in some way connected with reality? Surely the great, magnificent right of free speech is balanced by an obligation to accept some of the basic, grinding realities of our situation?

As thousands of people wonder how they will cope with the consequences of rearranging out-of-control mortgages surely it is time to put aside the wishful thinking and deal with the hard, very often unattractive facts of Ireland in April 2013?

Today lobby group Social Justice Ireland (SJI) publishes a 360-page “Socio-Economic Review”. They make proposals they believe would ease the awful hardship facing so many people today. This objective is shared by everyone on this island.

Unfortunately the organisation speaks in terms so broad, so contradictory and beyond our immediate capabilities, that their contribution is another of those high-minded documents that means well but just adds to the air of instability and uncertainty that stands between us all and any real possibility of recovery.

Of course the objective of social justice, as we have said time after time, must dominate public policy, but that policy must have at least the immediate possibility of being implemented or else proposing it is counterproductive and dispiriting.

SJI, unsurprisingly, proposes “a reduction in Ireland’s debt burden to assist macro-economic stability”. Yes, of course, but how can that be achieved? And, has some progress not been made by Finance Minister Michael Noonan in this regard? They also propose a very desirable “increase in the investment programme envisaged by Government”. Yes, of course, but can we really borrow more money to do that? Are we not being crushed by debt already? Another objective is “the restoration of fiscal and financial stability”. Yes, let’s do that, but part of it would be balancing the books and that infers more cuts. If that happens SJI and other like-minded, well intentioned lobbyists will launch another round of attacks on Government.

SJI is absolutely right about two things though. We expect services on a par with Europe’s best but pay only American levels of taxes and this contradiction will never add up. Their position on wealth taxes, coming as it does days after the 60% haircut on deposits north of €100,000 in Cypriot banks, seems entirely right.

Leaders, and in this context SJI is one in Ireland today, can achieve great things. A common denominator in successful leaders’ methods is not fudging, of finding possibility where there seems to be none. One of the things great leaders do is to make terrible challenges seem surmountable by assuring people that they can cope with the difficulties standing between them and success. Right now any other kind of leadership, argument or promise is just a distraction.

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