IT is not an exaggeration to say the most important Dáil session in the lifetime of any living Irish person opens this afternoon.
By its end we will know whether we have any real prospect of continuing to enjoy the sovereignty we took for granted for so very long. The sovereignty we imagined was a permanent right that need not be nurtured, honoured or protected. The sovereignty and independence that was so hard won, so empowering and the independence that we have, more or less, squandered in half a decade of hubris.
At the end of this session we will know if we can be numbered among the viable, functioning nations or whether we have to join the long and sorry list of societies that have had to turn to the mercies of the International Monetary Fund or the European Central Bank for their very survival. We will know if we have any prospect of sustaining, or more accurately, returning to the lifestyles and the ambitions that were absolutely unremarkable even two years ago.
The 166 members of the Dáil face a challenge none of their living predecessors had to consider. A challenge that requires a unity of purpose alien to our political culture and practice. Every last member of the Dáil must, from today, concentrate on the bigger picture. In this last chance saloon point scoring is more than a minor irrelevance, it is a poisonous distraction from the terrible challenges of the moment.
Earlier this week Fine Gael blundered into an avoidable quagmire by declaring they would no longer honour agreements on pairing for Dáil votes. This schoolboys’ league drum-beating afforded Labour an opportunity to look like real leaders and even gave Tánaiste Mary Coughlan a chance to play the innocent victim. The most recent Government example of this kind of empty playacting was yesterday’s announcement centred on “a major new integrated plan” for trade, tourism and investment aimed at generating up to 300,000 jobs.
300,000 jobs? Wonderful, all our problems are over so. Let’s book New York for the Christmas shopping and get the helicopter serviced for Cheltenham.
It is this kind of patronising braggarts’ charter that has so damaged faith in our political system and our politicians. This is the kind of recycled fantasy that does so much to crush whatever optimism can be mustered as the international bond markets tighten their grip, almost daily, on whatever future we can expect.
In an piece of scene-setting Hitchcock would enjoy, our parliament returns to session today on the second anniversary of the infamous night when our Government gave our bankers the ultimate stay-out-of-jail card – an unlimited guarantee on deposits.
That night has come to symbolise a State under the bankers’ thumb. How wonderful it would be if today, in time, became known as the day all our politicians put the grandstanding to one side – and election, after all, will come soon enough – and acted with the unity of purpose needed to rescue this country and the very institution that honours them with membership.
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