Farmleigh forum - Opportunity we should not ignore

BECAUSE of the festering anger, the stress and great worry caused by economic circumstances and political failures it would be very easy to sneer at the Global Irish Economic Forum held at Farmleigh, in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, over this weekend.

It would be too easy to dismiss it as an All Ireland weekend jamboree for politicians and plutocrats by pointing out that some of the 200 people invited to the forum, hosted by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, represent the culture that contributed to our present difficulties.

Be that as it may, our situation is so precarious that we can no longer indulge these instincts; we must pursue opportunity wherever it presents itself.

We should recall too that instinct does not always serve us well. Remember the great opprobrium, the relentless undermining of John Hume when he first dared to speak to the Provos all those years ago? His efforts were dismissed as delusional. In reality, they were the first steps towards the peace that this island enjoys today.

The reality is that by bringing people and ideas together, the greatest of challenges can be overcome. That is how the world works and that is how a solution to our difficulties will be found.

Speaking at the opening of the forum, Mr Cowen acknowledged the potential of developing an ongoing relationship with Irish people who have achieved success all around the world.

This initiative has the capacity to be one of the planks in an economic recovery and because of that it should be welcomed and the participants’ views should get the attention they deserve. Undoubtedly, the forum will throw up a few good ideas and identify the germs of a few more but there’s the rub.

Our Government has a very poor record in taking advice. It has, as did the Ahern administrations, too often put electoral and political objectives before anything else. It has, with the disastrous consequences we see around us every day, deferred hard but inevitable decisions rather than jeopardise electoral prospects.

It already has the McCarthy Report and the Commission on Taxation reports on its desk. Both of these, if only implemented in part, will cause huge difficulties and dissent.

There is a difference between those reports and this weekend’s economic forum though. The Government might pick and choose from McCarthy and the Tax Commission prescriptions. However, it is very unlikely that those who gave their time this weekend will continue to participate in such a process if the Government does not act on at least some of their suggestions.

The forum, despite some misgivings, is too good an opportunity to miss and let us hope the Government has the courage to follow up on forum suggestions that might allow it contribute to the rejuvenation of our economy and our society.


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