Irish Examiner view: Political engagement never more important

As we hopefully move towards a post pandemic world, many of us now question the direction our country is heading and the political legacy we our establishing for our grandchildren.
Irish Examiner view: Political engagement never more important

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald TD called for “enlightened” leadership from Unionists but did not address the issue of the Bobby Storey funeral last summer that showed an indifference to public health regulations. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

This weekend, as spring's green tide finally pushes winter's ochre remnants aside, many grandparents will wonder when they might get to hug or even see their grandchildren. They will parse changing pandemic rules hoping that a longed-for visit cannot be too far away. In the absence of those grandchildren, some might have wondered what kind of a world they — we — have left for those children. They might have considered climate change, deepening inequities, how opportunity is not as ubiquitous as before, housing scandals and, maybe the resurgence of autocracy in Europe or any number of other all-too depressing legacies. The transgenerational charge sheet is heavy, so heavy that the key issue, the catalyst for all this dysfunction might not even be considered.

All of these issues, to one degree or another, are consequences of political disengagement, of imagining that democracy and social development can advance on a kind of autopilot. That leave-it-to-someone-else continues despite mounting and distressing evidence that the no-free-lunch equation is as real in politics as it is in any other aspect of life. It would be overstating the case, and silly too, to suggest that politics cannot be left to politicians but the cynicism provoked by the system and its indifference or irrelevance on so many issues must be addressed if it is to have any authenticity if it is to help society stay on an even keel much less realise our potential.

A chilling example of this cynicism and delusion was offered yesterday when Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, in the face of escalating street violence in Northern Ireland,  called for “enlightened” leadership from Unionists and for them to display “some courage” in supporting their communities. Maybe she has a split personality but this is the same Mary Lou McDonald who used Bobby Storey’s funeral last summer to parade her party's utter indifference to public health regulations. The PSNI decision not to prosecute at least some of those at the funeral has, unsurprisingly, angered Unionists. As late as last Sunday Ms McDonald ramped up the premature debate around the reunification of Ireland as if that pressing had no consequences for a community struggling with Brexit inevitabilities. 

Of course, Ms McDonald's harrumphing is reflected in her opponents' behaviour, allowing one to feed off the other. DUP leader Arlene Foster's repeated calls for the PSNI chief to resign are a hint that Unionism's old habits around the management of policing have not changed that much.

Fianna Fáíl or Fine Gael, or even theGreens, may not be as vulnerable on this particular issue but they trip over others all too easily yet they all sail on more or less indifferent to the hopes many grandparents have for their grandchildren.

This will culminate at a ballot box but before a vote is cast for either the party that has not resolved the housing crisis despite being in power for 11 years or the party so obviously enthralled by thinly-veiled, simmering paramilitarism the air will be alive with anguished complaints about the absence of a plausible, moderate alternative with a social conscience. And why is there no alternative?

Yes, we do indeed pay a huge price for disengagement but, tragically, our grandchildren may face an even higher one.

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up