CHRISTMAS and the New Year period should be a time for some thoughtful reflection on the year gone by and on how we can make the best of life, not just for ourselves, but for our nearest and dearest, and with a view also to the wider world also, during the coming year.
All the small things people do – such as voting in the upcoming general election, showing a bit more tolerance, helping to integrate refugees into our society and trying to reduce our carbon footprint – are meaningful actions that add up for the greater good of our country and mankind in general. If people don’t think and act positively, we are all on a hiding to nothing.
Most people have had a financial splurge this Christmas as they enjoyed a deserved break from the constraints of almost seven years of austerity and look forward to the prospect of more disposable income in their pay packets in the New Year thanks to the government’s largesse in Budget 2016. However, people should not get carried away by this pre-election auction politics, which is intensifying by the day, and they should not allow themselves to get taken in by it – remember all the unkept promises after the last general election!
Even already, some people are ‘maxing out’ their credit cards and now, more than ever, the Central Bank of Ireland needs to ensure that banks and other financial institutions are prevented from engaging in the type of reckless lending that brought them to the bring of collapse in 2008. Just before Christmas, we had the example of one of the big banks – which is effectively owned by the taxpayer – offering loans of up to €30,000 for people going to the 2016 European Soccer Championships in France next summer. Are they losing the run of themselves again?
A huge gloss has been put of the state of our economic recovery, mainly by the coalition government partners, Fine Gael and Labour, who hope to get back into power again, even though – ironically – they have daggers drawn on the hustings, trying to outdo one another with populist promises. So much for partnership and stability.
To their credit, they have reduced the unemployment rate from over 15% to under 9% during their time in office and our current annual growth rate of 7%, while hugely impressive, is based on a number of extraneous factors, such as strong exports fuelled by the weakness of the euro against the US dollar and sterling, low oil prices and interest rates, all of which cannot last indefinitely – as happened with the stamp duty receipts that fed the Celtic Tiger boom. Apart also from the massive investment needed for social housing to combat the huge homelessness problem and for our public health service, we also need to pay down a lot more of the national debt, which is still in excess of 100% of GDP (it was 24.8% in 2006) and things like these are being conveniently put on the back burner with the election pending.
People should be asking election candidates what are they going to do about them and when they are going to get real about providing long-term sustainable solutions to inadequate public services? After all, these are what the 1916 Proclamation – the centenary of which we will be celebrating in the Spring – aspired to.
It did not mention same-sex marriage, but society has moved on a lot in the past 100 years and the passing in May of the Marriage Referendum, which saw the highest turnout ever for such a plebiscite here, in terms of votes cast, gave an emphatic almost two-to-one (62% for, 38% against) endorsement of marriage equality regardless of gender and sparked the most colourful and joyous celebration ever of an Irish referendum result.
ON the international front, there are so many things happening that could affect our lives, directly or indirectly. The threat posed by ISIS, as illustrated by terrorist attacks in Paris this past year, and in Tunisia where a number of Irish people lost their lives, is very real and, just because we are a so-called neutral country, it doesn’t mean that they will let Ireland alone, as they seem to have small cells of radicalised fanatic followers everywhere, who are not afraid to become martyrs for the cause, killing as many innocent people as they can in the process.
Islamic State has no home of its own except in the intolerant minds of its followers and its brutal aggression has been the main driver of people out of Syria and Iraq, hoping for a better life as refugees to Europe mainly. The image of the lifeless body of three-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi lying on a beach in Turkey, having drowned along with his mother and brother as they sought out a better life in Europe, struck a chord with people and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s generous commitment to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees inspired other countries to help more and this saw her acclaimed as Time magazine’s 2015 Person of the Year.
We can do our bit by being tolerant of the families who settle here as refugees. Enough Irish people had to make new lives for themselves abroad for various reasons over the past two centuries and we should give refugees the welcome that we would like to get ourselves in other countries.
Paris was central to a lot of what happened on the world stage this past year and the historic agreement to tackle global warming at the end of the CoP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in December marked a realisation that had finally dawned on world leaders that something tangible needed to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to financially help poorer countries strike a balance between their economic development and the resultant increase in their carbon-generated emissions. Five-yearly reviews of countries’ emissions, and their progress in reducing them, are part of a plan to try to limit the global temperature increase to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius, and hopefully nearer 1.5C, above pre-industrial levels.
It is all very well in theory, but the plan has to be bought into in practical terms and everybody needs to be prepared to do their bit, where they can, to reduce their carbon footprint – whether it is by changing the type of vehicle they drive or how they heat their homes. Every bit helps and the next government must redouble its efforts to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, to actively create an awareness of all the things people can do to help and to give them assistance by way of incentives.