Failure of leadership has brought us an Ireland of inequality and division

Posted By: July 23, 2017

Patrick Murphy.Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, July 22, 2017

As our politicians, north and south, leave us in peace for a few months and a welcome summer silence falls gently across the island, it might be a good time to reflect on the state of Ireland and its two Irish states.

Where have our politicians led us? What does Ireland stand for in an unpredictable world? What has Irish politics done for our people, especially our children and what sort of Ireland has it produced?

In The North, politics has reached a sectarian stalemate, an inevitable distraction from the failure of Stormont’s compulsory coalition to deliver social or economic progress. Unionism has never been more entrenched, especially with more than £1 billion in the DUP’s back pocket.

But this same party, which claims to be British, has horrified sections of the British public with its narrow political views. Even some Conservatives have demanded an end to Tory dependence on the DUP – an English version of ‘Brits Out’.

Nationalism, on the other hand, has never been more rampant. It demands respect and equality for political parties in Stormont, but not for the 100,000 children who live outside of it in poverty.

Nationalism demands a border poll. It would offer a choice between political union with Britain, through  Belfast, or political union with Germany (and 26 other countries) through Dublin. The 1916 rebels rejected it as a choice between King and Kaiser. Now it is nationalism’s main objective.

Like the DUP in London, Northern Nationalism’s border poll idea is unwelcome in Dublin. Stormont’s sectarianism does not travel well.

The poll ignores the 800-year-old objective of Irish independence, now absent from the Irish national consciousness. A new Irish generation has been reared with ingrained loyalty to European unionism.

I suggested to a friend in The South last week that Ireland might consider political independence from the EU while retaining trade and customs links. He replied that EU membership had brought enlightenment to Ireland and anyway, “The EU would never allow that”.

This was a man who fought for Irish independence in the 1957 IRA campaign and served a long sentence in the Crumlin Road. What changed Ireland?

Meanwhile, in the stagnant North, public services are in serious decline. Most schools are in financial deficit. A university education now comes with lifelong debts, even though the quality of courses is variable.

Queen’s [Univesity] is good at medicine,  and the school of nursing has an excellent teaching reputation. But the University recently fell out of the world’s top 200. Ulster University did not make the top 600. Without world-class universities, our economic future is at best uncertain. Stormont’s politicians remain silent on the issue.

It is better in The South, where Trinity College Dublin is in the top 100 and its fees are half those of Northern universities. In Scotland, they charge no fees at all. Maybe we spent 800 years fighting for the wrong thing.

The fighting is over now in The South, where they recognize that forgiveness beats belligerence. The growth of a left wing opposition in Dublin has allowed Dáil politics to reflect a sophistication and a maturity, not found in Stormont.

Although Irish history is being constantly re-written, sometimes even before it happens, its geography remains largely the same. Leitrim still has the loneliness,  and south Kilkenny still has bad roads. But if the landscape is largely unchanged, rural Ireland is now a wasteland, stripped of post offices, schools, pubs and Garda stations.

In terms of culture, the Gaeltacht is dying, but the language is growing in other areas. Gaelic football now contains all the excitement of accountancy on grass, and the GAA has sold its soul to Sky TV so that those who built the organization must now pay to watch some of its games. Why has Ireland changed?

These days, young men and women arriving in Ireland from Eastern Europe, Africa or the Middle East can learn the skills of hurling and camogie (and speak Irish) within months. Unionists have been here for 400 years and if one of their leaders attends a GAA match, it is greeted like the Second Coming. Why?

So, Ireland is a nation of inequality, increasing materialism, growing secularism and infinite sectarianism. We have got here because our politicians have practiced management, which means doing things right (although not always). What we need is leadership – doing the right things. Failure to show leadership has brought us where we are.

Perhaps it is unrealistically romantic to hope for a better Ireland, but maybe our country needs more vision and more romance. At least we can dream of both until the summer ends.