Refusal to face reality is destructive: Why do we fudge the big issues?

It’s almost 80 years since TS Eliot published his searing Four Quartets.

One of their often hijacked lines seems more relevant today than it did when the poet, born in 1888 on the banks of America’s Mississippi River — the red heartland of Trump country — wrote it.

Eliot observed during the early years of the Second World War that “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”.

That his assessment seems more pertinent today than it might have then is a warning from history; a chastisement for the frailties we indulge and occasionally sanctify by imagining them as rights or as facts.

The evidence is all around. We pretend that abortion is not available in this Republic even though a budget air ticket means it is available to anyone living in this Republic.

We pretend it is not available even though a former master of the Coombe has said the termination of pregnancies to save the mother had been taking place long before the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed in 2013.

Those options are realities even if some of us cannot accept them.

The water charges foolishness, a tragedy driven by the most toxic opportunism, is another example of our capacity to cast reality aside when it does not fit our self-serving map of where rights end and responsibilities begin.

The matter may be settled for the moment but the pipes are still leaking, the demand growing and the paltry efforts to encourage conservation set aside. Another reality some of us cannot accept.

Just yesterday the hardy annual — third-level funding — resurfaced but anyone expecting a decision on this critical issue anytime soon knows this awkwardness will be deferred as long as even one vote is at risk.

Sadly, another undeniable fact. Official ambitions for the food and farming sectors are another confirmation of Eliot’s line.

They fly in the face of our climate change obligations and attract the prospect of multi-million euro sanctions. It is as if those who proposed Food Wise 2025 live in a parallel universe where they can invent an ideal reality even if it is unsustainable.

The examples of sectional interest as policy are myriad as the maternity hospital and school patronage skirmishes show. Another significant one looms; talks are about to begin on a pay deal for 300,000 State employees. Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe is about to present the Public Service Pay Commission report to Government.

Significant proposals are expected in how public employee pensions are funded and what employees can expect in retirement. Current arrangements, which cost €3.3 billion a year, are unsustainable but that does not mean the issue will be dealt with in a way that represents the interests of all citizens.

It would not be surprising if another big-ticket issue was dodged, if doing the right but hard thing was, to paraphrase another American poet, the road less taken.

The recovery continues even if at a slower pace, Brexit looms so expenditure cannot meet expectations but, as the capitulation on garda pay showed, a short-term fix, a fudge can be expected.

Sadly, this will confirm Eliot’s line and show we are incapable of long-term planning, of facing reality even if that would ultimately benefit everyone in this society.


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