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Decency, not austerity, is the only path to recovery

April 14th, 2020 11:45 AM

By Southern Star Team

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BY CHRISTOPHER O’SULLIVAN

WITH negotiations under way to form a new government, conversations are focussed on the recovery phase of the crisis – what shape will it take, how hard will it be and will it mean for all of us?

One thing is certain – austerity must be avoided at all costs.

This virus has already upended every facet of domestic and economic life.

The journey and the fight to guard ourselves against Covid-19 is by no means over, but there are glimmers of light from the end of the tunnel.

The outgoing Taoiseach last week took a grim view of what the next government will face. ‘All we’re offering people here willing to join a government is endless effort, constant criticism, disappointment,’ he said.

To some extent this can’t be avoided. The road back will not be easy. But it will be made easier if we have government that supports and doesn’t punish. I’m reminded of my own party leader, Micheál Martin, and his call for a ‘people-centred recovery.’

I say it is essential we have a recovery that supports and doesn’t punish. We’re only a few years out of the global financial crisis and its effects are still being bitterly felt. Is it any wonder we’re cynical?

No matter the shape of the new government, when it forms in the coming weeks, it cannot ignore the sense of decency, pride and community solidarity that is getting us through these times.

The currency of recovery will be the same as what is pulling us through this crisis: our inherent decency.

Cork has it in gallons.As the former mayor of the county, I’ve seen it across our communities. I’m now seeing it in the texts, emails, Facebook posts and telephone calls that are flooding in.

Of course there is fear. I hear families worried about long-term unemployment, I hear about unprecedented domestic upheaval and the heartbreak of not being able to see elderly relatives amid the loneliness of isolation.

I took a walk in Clonakilty the other day, within 2km of my home. I walked through empty streets that would have been bustling with tourists and trade and music in the run-up to Easter.

Now people on the street (and there are very few) cross the road to avoid each other physically. But the community regard we have for each other – as natural as breathing in this county – is still very evident.

Yes, we’re crossing the street, but we’re catching each other’s eyes and sharing words across the chasm of the road: ‘hello, I see you, how are you, are you keeping well, do you need anything up the house?’ We miss being able to gather for the craic.

It occurred to me in the general silence that while this virus has taken so much from us - our time with our loved ones, our money, our peace of mind -  it hasn’t come close to harming the spirit of our communities.

In fact, the only net positive out of all of this is we have been reminded of our inherent Irish decency.

Just look at how quickly our businesses, struggling under the weight of debt and the sudden loss of income, rallied to give free meals to our frontline workers, or changed their production lines to create hand sanitiser for charities and nursing homes.

Our musicians and bars have continued to enrich our evenings by organising free online gigs on Facebook Live just to keep the craic up and to bring people, virtually, together.

We haven’t, in other words, retreated into ourselves. We’re keeping in touch with each other and are keeping it going as best we can.

I’ve been humbled by how our communities here in Cork have come together to find creative ways to keep in touch and help one another.

It’s that solidarity and creativity we have to bring to the recovery.

• Christopher O’Sullivan is a Fianna Fáil TD for Cork South West.

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