Change, even profound change, can be imperceptible but — usually — the great changes are obvious.
Nevertheless they can be surprising when expressed in everyday terms.
Change can offer perspective too, reminding us that no matter how difficult our circumstances they are enviable when compared to the lot of billions of people around the world.
That 36,000 people took Irish citizenship over the past two years confirms this. As we ring in 2013 at midnight on Monday some 17% of those welcoming the New Year in Ireland, around 766,770 people, will be people born outside of this country. No Irish person has witnessed an influx like this. That the Plantation of Ulster in early 1600s, a displacement of population that changed the face of Ireland forever, involved fewer than 20,000 adults puts today’s influx in context. It is obvious too that today’s arrivals are far more welcome.
The other side of that coin was apparent over recent days when the great anchor in today’s world — from internet access to radio — underlined time and time again, maybe even too often for comfort, how many Irish people have left to find work. It was obvious too, despite conservative assertions, that many left to live in a society that more enthusiastically supports and reflects their values.
Altogether 46,500 people emigrated in the year to April, an increase of 16% on the previous 12 months. CSO figures show that 87,100 people of all nationalities left during that time, up from 80,600. Irish nationals accounted for 53% of the total.
As some of those emigrants who came home for Christmas return to their new life abroad these contrasting sets of figures can be interpreted in a variety of ways. One, unfortunately undeniable, is that the country is not working as well as many of us would like. Too many Irish people have to live lives other than the one they and their family might wish. Paradoxically, almost 1m people born elsewhere have chosen to live here so it might be fair to assume that we are doing some things right but are failing in many other areas. Redressing that imbalance is the challenge of our time.
Unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, economic stability if not recovery, and how State resources are used are the frontline issues in this challenge, one some people have described in terms of building a New Republic.
One event on the horizon will play a central role in that process. It seems that the Croke Park Deal will be revised and renewed despite its very questionable success. How it is revised, and the number of Government voices calling for real revision grows all the time, will to a large degree define the country’s immediate prospects.
If it remains a deal to protect privilege and inequity it will further undermine unity and confidence and all that reverse implies. If it is to be a catalyst for real change, a catalyst to harness the potential of the country, then it is possible to imagine that the dispiriting statistics that have recently defined Ireland might be reversed.
The Croke Park Deal is no longer an arrangement between employer and employee but rather a statement of social policy and ambition. So be it but that imposes obligations that will test the solidarity, courage and determination of the Coalition like never before. Let us all, public and private sector, hope they are equal to the task.
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