The Government needs to take a page out of Munster’s playbook

I HAVE a friend called Ger.

We all call him Ger, but when he’s a famous actor — as he will be — you’ll know him as Gerard Adlum. He’s from Templemore, and has great talent and presence on stage. He struggles a bit on the golf course, mostly through lack of practice, although he’s capable of pulling off the odd majestic shot.

But the thing that endears me most to him is the text he unfailingly sends me on certain highly fraught occasions. I was waiting for it on Sunday afternoon, as I was biting my nails to the quick. It goes like this: “When all is said and done, is there any team, in any sport, you’d rather follow than Munster?”

There they were, doing it again. Refusing to be beaten. Their leader was a man about whom there was immense speculation throughout the summer that he might never play again — and now suddenly the speculation is that he might lead the Lions to Australia in the summer, so immense was his performance. Their leading point scorer was a man who had also been comprehensively written off, including by his national team, and yet managed to completely control the game.

And now the only question being asked about this beaten, broken down old team is: how far can they go? Before the match, Paul O’Connell was interviewed by Alan Quinlan on Sky Sports, and admitted shyly !that Harlequins must be delighted to see Munster coming. In his post-match interview, he said Clermont Auvergne must be thrilled that it was Munster rather than Harlequins they were going to have to face.

I doubt it. Well, maybe Clermont Auvergne are pleased, but if they are, they’re mad. Munster had a solid if unspectacular first half on Sunday. Then they went into the dressing room, and came out a totally different team. The years simply fell of them — not just in age terms, but in terms of attitude and style. This was the Munster we remember, the Munster that revels in long series of phases where the ball is moved inch by inch up the field, where every player is bound to one another by bands of steel, where discipline and character make them simply impossible to withstand.

Without wishing to stretch a point, there’s a lesson in this, if they care to see it, for politics. If ever there was a time for character, discipline and unity, this is surely it. We have a government that consists of the two largest parties in the state. They’ve had a solid, unspectacular first half to their period in office, in terms of meeting their objectives. But they’re behind on points — well behind, if the opinion polls are to be believed. And they have managed the almost impossible task of making the opposition look a lot better than they are. Far too many penalties have been given away in easy kicking range, far too many balls have been fumbled.

Something happened to that Munster team at half-time last Sunday. It enabled them, somehow, to recapture what they have been. More important, it enabled them to imagine, no matter how unlikely it might seem, what they could be. As Ghandi said, what you imagine, you can become.

I don’t know what the magic ingredient was — how do you make someone imagine? And yet, if our government wants to be the team we’d rather follow than anyone else, it’s precisely that sort of imagination they could use right now. They could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of Claiming our Future. Claiming our Future is a grassroots organisation, aimed at developing a set of ideas and campaigns based on principles of equality and sustainability. They are the people behind Plan B, a detailed and thoughtful alternative to the politics of austerity.

And now they are launching a new event, called “Setting Goals for a Better Ireland in a Just World”. It’s a joint venture this time, with two other umbrella groups — Dochas, which brings together organisations that work in the developing world, and The Wheel, which represents a great many community and voluntary organisations throughout Ireland.

The idea is simple. They hope to gather together a couple of hundred members of Irish civil society, on Saturday week (April 20) in an event to discuss and to set ambitious goals for a better Ireland and a just and sustainable world. Conclusions of this public meeting will be presented to EU leaders as they make crucial decisions about Europe’s role in creating a better world.

The organisers make a simple point — and it’s a highly positive one. This is a unique moment for Ireland and the world, they say. Ireland currently holds the EU Presidency, meaning it can influence EU policies more than ever. This year, too, the UN must also set a new “recipe for development” to succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, and which truly addresses the root causes of poverty, injustice and climate change. In this context, the EU must set a bold, ambitious and sustainable vision for a world without poverty and injustice and its role in achieving that. A gathering that produces a set of coherent ideas, that can be presented to the wider EU leadership and lobbied for, can only be a force for good. There is a real opportunity here for people to put their imagination to work.

BUT actually, the next phase of that operation could well involve a revisiting of the goals of the original Claiming our Future event. That took place back in 2010, when 1,000 people gathered in the RDS to set out goals for Ireland in the face of the crisis that was gripping us. It was a fantastic day, full of energy and creativity, and it produced a stream of powerful ideas.

But nobody listened. And maybe the reason was that nobody was forced to listen. One of the “rules of the game” back then was that serving politicians weren’t invited to the event, and weren’t welcome in the discussions.

Perhaps now that has to change. The potential energy of Claiming our Future has to be harnessed in a much more powerful way, and perhaps the way to do that is to have the politicians in the room, fully engaged with the ideas, the analysis and the imagination. They (the politicians) have more to contribute than perhaps we’re prepared to admit — especially if they’re taken out of their comfort zones, and actually invited to sit at a table of ideas with a cross-section of the citizens they represent. Surely nothing could be lost by inviting the government and opposition to sit, and talk, and listen?

Nothing could be more depressing, in my view, than the thought of two or three more years of us all shouting at each other. It’s half-time in the match now, and we all need to be in the dressing room, figuring out how we win this together. It may be that the simple message to come out at the end is “we’re not going to allow ourselves to be beaten”.

We’ve seen how that works for Munster. Why couldn’t it work for Ireland?

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