Kicking that can down the road: Let’s decide to make decisions

VERY few of us are lucky enough to get through life without having to make hard, possibly life-changing, uncomfortable decisions. 

Sometimes these decisions, even if they are the correct one, impinge on others’ lives in a negative if unintended way. Eventually, even the most determined procrastinator runs out of rope and a decision must be made. That infamous can, one battered and dented by all of our political parties may only be kicked down the ever-lengthening road so often.

One of the consequences of indecision, of relying on focus groups or whatever ouija board is in fashion today, is that the effectiveness and potential of real leadership is diminished and eventually almost forgotten. Evasion replaces purpose. Principles that should be inviolable become optional. Convenient fictions usurp reality and no one’s nose is put out of joint because the hard call has been dodged. Unfortunately, that culture has become so very well rooted in most Western democracies that they are no longer as effective as they should be in protecting citizens from everything from globalisation to climate change, from ill health to unemployment or destitution. Government after government in country after country has taken refuge in commissioning reports, engaging consultants or even establishing citizens’ forums. Our latest one will report to a Dáil committee so that it might, in something like the time it takes to get to Mars, reach conclusions on abortion legislation that might, when eventually shared with the executive, force our Government into making, God forbid, an awkward decision.

That rope-a-dope strategy was in play again yesterday when it was announced that bin charges will be frozen for the next 12 months. Instead of facing the prospect of higher refuse bills this year that probability has been deferred for a year while the Government and the waste firms try to agree on what might be an appropriate, and in this instance that really means politically bearable, list of charges.

And why not? That dodge has, after all, worked splendidly in the water charges debacle. Those who campaigned against the charges might disagree and imagine, like the Provos, that they won the war when nothing more than a ceasefire has been called. Make no mistake about it water charges will be imposed under one heading or another no matter how loudly the minority who oppose them shout — but they can take some comfort in the fact that before that can happen a pretty hard decision must be made by Government.

Another of the hard decisions that can hardly be kicked along the road for much longer is the one on third-level fees. At this stage we probably have more reports on the issue than we have third-level institutions but, like a desperate man depending on a Lotto win, the reality of the situation has been sidelined for political convenience — and all the while our colleges and the students who trust in them are misused.

A reluctance to make a hard decision may be a cultural trait of ours but it is one that does not serve us well. Not only does it defer the inevitable but it also encourages poor politics which, in turn, leads to pretty poor outcomes. It’s time we made a decision to change this.


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