It’s not because we don’t realise the nature of the odds we have to beat, but because we know that if we can win that battle we can win them all. Let’s not start off by doubting our capacity to win. A defeatist attitude now is certain to lead to defeat, it’s primarily a question of whether we have confidence in ourselves and in the abilities, diligence and determination of our people, we cannot opt out of the future.
Sean Lemass, 1965 Fianna Fail Ard Fheis
This ranks as one of my favorite quotes from an Irish political leader. When he made that speech it was generally interpreted as a call to arms as he sought to end Ireland’s economic and political isolation from the rest of Europe. There was a future and opportunities to be had if only we were brave enough to cast away old ideas and concepts of who we were and what we could achieve.
Perhaps it was just a sense of optimism that existed during the sixties or maybe I am just looking at a positive historical narrative but there did seem to exist then a national goal.
Fast forward to today and that seems to have fallen by the wayside. Ireland appears to be a country not at ease with itself. We have politicians who seem content to play one group of people off against the other. You can hear it in language that pits public sector workers against private sector workers or those very well off people in the South side of Dublin doing very well, whilst others are not.
This sectional approach to politics is very attractive. After all elections are about beating your opponents and motivating your party base.
But I wonder is there not a better way to achieve national progress. It might be easy to point at your opposition or another demographic and scream “they’re to blame for your misfortune and we are the crowd to get back at them.”
There is another way that has at its heart reconciliation, rebuilding and recovery. This model assumes that Irish people ultimately no matter their income or background want to see real substantive progress across the country.
It assumes that the spirit that underpinned some of our greatest achievements in the past has not withered on the vine of sectionalism and division.
It also assumes that some politicians want to run the country, rather than carve it up.
So how about a more longer term approach that puts government as a vehicle to bring people of all sections together in order to stimulate higher levels of growth. Pie in the sky thinking I hear you say? But this has been tried successfully in countries like Australia and New Zealand with positive results. Then followed by rebuilding, using that growth to ensure communities that were hard hit by the crash get the resources necessary to thrive within a growing economy and then ultimately there is the socio-economic recovery that comes with it.
We should always guard against the demise of Irish society. We can often get too bogged down in the political arguments that each of us take part in, but at the end of the day are we not all part of the same society? Do we not all have a vested interest in making the country work?
The fact is that all of us have a stake in making this country succeed. We don’t need to talk it down and we don’t need to divide and sectionalise it to win an election.
I am punting that there are thousands of people out there and they will vote for this type of approach. Perhaps the party that can truly bring the Irish people together again is the one who could potentially govern in coalition for the next generation.
The opportunity is out there, parties just need to seize it.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs