26 November 2010 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Many of the people who attended last Friday’s 2010 graduation ceremony for the students of the Monaghan Institute of Further Education and Training will have gone home feeling uplifted.  In addition to seeing family members of their own and their peers celebrate significant educational attainment and take an important step forward in their working or academic lives, they heard a number of compelling addresses that struck a positive counterpoint to the bleak vista of the economic landscape that had been built up around them in the course of the year.

Tara Wilson, Director of Training and Development at Monaghan Mushrooms, shared with the audience her company’s ambition to be the world’s leading producer in the sphere of food production in which it excelled.  Ms Wilson also outlined how investing in the career development of staff and maximising their potential was a vital cornerstone in the realisation of this objective.  Her message was inspiring: a Monaghan company could be the best in the world, and Monaghan people could take a key role in achieving that.

Chief Executive Officer of Co Monaghan Vocational Education Committee Martin O’Brien was even more forthright in his rejection of the prevailing economic despondency.  He held up the plans for the development of a multi-purpose education complex by the VEC at Knockaconny as an example of the positive progress that could be accomplished in the county despite the national travails.  There was, he said, no cause for doom and gloom.

Subsequent events, of course, have launched a massive assault on Ms Wilson and Mr O’Brien’s optimism.  Those who might have left the Hillgrove Hotel buoyed by what they had heard were, over the course of the following days, precipitated into an economic wasteland, presented with a vista akin to that imagined to confront the survivors of a nuclear holocaust upon emergence from their protective bunkers.

It is hardly necessary to précis what has taken place in Ireland since the last edition of this newspaper was published.  No reader will have escaped the media’s meticulous accounting of the calamitous events.  It is suffice to state that the Pandora’s box containing all the most baleful consequences predicted for this country’s economic mismanagement in recent years has been emptied out upon the population.

Having had to absorb the individual and collective consequences of Ireland entering into massive indebtedness at the behest of Europe in order to keep the nation functioning and mitigate the Irish infection’s spread through the euro-currency bloodstream, we are today learning the detail of the austerity measures to be imposed in the Government’s four-year ‘recovery’ plan.  Many of us will be doing so with our already low estimation for the politicians running the country plummeting into the depths of contempt.

The performance of the Government over the past week has been abject.  While it has been clear for some time that they lacked the imagination and resolve to halt the downward slide of the economy, it was surely not beyond them to summon up the courage to tell the people that the brink of the abyss had now been reached.  Yet not once over the course of this week did Taoiseach Brian Cowen or Finance Minister Brian Lenihan deem it appropriate to avail of the national airwaves to address the people directly.  It is extraordinary that, at a time of patent national crisis, they and their advisers seemed unaware, or dismissive of, the country’s need for clarity and reassurance.  Mr Cowen and his party stand to pay a heavy price for this fundamental failure of leadership.

The public will have the opportunity to pass judgement on the current Government and politicians in general soon enough.  There might yet be an election before Christmas – the December 7 Budget will likely prove too hot for some backbenchers or fair-weather Government supporters to handle.  If not, a February poll will replace the current Coalition with a new one of different hue, its majority determined by the degree of severity with which the vengeful electorate decide to impose its own cuts on Fianna Fáil, who by then will have replaced the politically defunct Mr Cowen with another figurehead.

This will be an important General Election, and when the time comes the manner in which the people go about the electoral process will be crucial.  It is to the eternal credit of the character of the Irish people that they have borne the brunt of the economic downturn, and the contemptuous way in which their Government has treated them since its onset, with, by and large, remarkable equanimity and even-headedness.  Such qualities must come into predominant play when the character of the next administration is being determined at the ballot box.

Never before in the history of this State will there be an election when disenchantment with the political process, and an inclination not to vote, or disillusionment with mainstream political ethos, and the temptation to see salvation in extremes of opinion either to the left or the right of that mainstream, will compete as vigorously with good sense and discernment in the minds of the electorate.  Both apathy and extremity must be curbed if the current ignominious period in Irish parliamentary politics is not to be followed by something even worse.

Much has been made in recent days of Ireland’s perceived loss of sovereignty.  The handwringers in this regard should remember that where involvement in an international currency is concerned, and perhaps also in the case of a small nation’s role in a political conglomerate of unequally resourced countries, sovereignty in practical terms becomes a notional thing.  EU Economics Commissioner Olli Rehn put it piquantly this week when he spoke of the Irish crisis as “a bush fire” which must be brought under control before “a forest fire” was ignited in one of our larger European partners.  One doesn’t need to be a philosopher to figure out the sovereignty a bush commands in a forest!

The Irish people, however, do possess one inviolable form of sovereignty – self-sovereignty.  And it is here that we would direct our readers back through the bleak blizzard of the preceding paragraphs to the hopeful vista mapped out by Ms Wilson and Mr O’Brien at last Friday’s MIFET graduation ceremony.

We would contend that the optimism with which both spoke about the potential of Co Monaghan people to achieve to the highest, and the capacity of further and continuing education to enable our local people maximise their self-development potential, remains justified despite the depressing national events which have unfolded since that optimism was expressed.

Undoubtedly the even harsher economic times ahead, and their potentially dispiriting consequences, will place formidable obstacles in the way of Monaghan Mushrooms achieving the goal of becoming the world leader in their field, and in the way of Co Monaghan VEC in realising all it desires for its new education campus in the timescale it has set out for itself.  But the track record of both suggests that they will continue to pursue these objectives, despite difficulties and setbacks, until they are achieved.

It is no coincidence that both organisations have at the core of their ethos a faith in the capacity of Monaghan people, given the proper training and stimulus, to achieve excellence.

This is recognition of the self-sovereignty we all possess as human beings, and which no misadventures of government, no economic turmoil or depression, can take away from us if we choose not to let it.

We do not suggest that it is an easy task for the people of this county to take in hand their own economic destiny in such difficult times.  In the weeks to come, many of us will be confronted by big challenges in our employment and family lives as the consequences of the national economic crisis manifest themselves.  For some, the need to reskill and return to education may become a necessity rather than an option.

Even those of us who escape significant privations will find our motivation and our mindset challenged by the pervasive doom and gloom.  The modern media saturates our senses, and at times such as these its Cassandra commentators, each trying to outdo the other in the bleakness of their forecasts, can drag the nation down.  It is always a prudent exercise of self-sovereignty to limit the amount of bad news we consume on any given day.

The enduring success of indigenous companies such as Monaghan Mushrooms, the VEC’s plans to locate a major educational facility with potential to stimulate job creation in the creative industries, the economic development strategy recently unveiled by the Co Development Board, the job creation endeavours of Monaghan Chamber of Commerce and many other positive developments being conceived or underway in the county all provide sources of hope for the future.  The coming years will be difficult, but if Co Monaghan people hang on to their self-sovereignty, we can come through them well.

Comments are closed.