5 April 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

At a time when our economy is displaying only fitful signs of stimulation, the first release of detailed findings from last year’s Census shows that in a great many other aspects of life Ireland is a country in the grip of quite effulgent growth.
Of course, the contrast between the rise in numbers and diversity of our population and the vista of ongoing economic austerity stretching before us paints a picture for the future that is at the very least uncertain and, viewed in its most negative light, considerably worrying from the viewpoint of social stability.
It should be remembered, however, that we are at quite a preliminary stage of the dissemination and digestion of the statistics collated through Census 2011.
Only as the year progresses and more focused and detailed information is released will we be able to begin to accurately assess the challenges that lie ahead and the capacity of the State to cater for the future needs of its citizens.
Already, however, those tasked with the responsibility for planning and development at local, regional and national level will be interrogating the census findings in an important pathfinding exercise.
The fact that Co Monaghan’s population has experienced an 8% growth will, for example, bear upon the drafting and deliberation of the new Co Development Plan that will figure ever larger on the agendas of our local authorities in the next two years.
That bare statistic no doubt disguises a complex demographic pattern of rises, falls and shifts of population that will require an adjustment in the provision of services in the years to come.
How much of our population rise is due to more births, and how much to a growth in the non-Irish national population, is one question that will impinge on service delivery.
Naturally, the increase in people will not be of an equal geographic spread – there will be areas of our county shown to have been hit, and hit hard, by economic decline and the departure of young people to other areas of the country or abroad, necessitating planning provisions to guard against rural or smaller urban decline.
But, despite the grim twin realities of downturn and departure, there has been a remarkable growth in population numbers nationally, with an unprecedented rise in the birth rate for recent times – in its own way a compelling, and heartening, statement of Irish people’s hopes for the future despite the manifold difficulties they are grappling with at present.
If not enfeebled by an unchecked tide of emigration, this aspect of the Census embodies the prospect of a future Ireland with a remarkably young and vibrant population – and a much smaller proportion of dependent elderly than at present.
A formidable challenge is thus presented to the current and future Governments that seems to crystallise in determining, and delivering upon, a timescale for navigating the country out of its current stagnation and back into a mainstream of incremental and sustainable economic growth.
The education and employment needs of the emerging generation will not be met by the prevailing policies of paring service provision to the bone and failing to confront the stubborn reluctance of financial institutions to release investment capital to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The current trend of government policy is – just barely – tolerable as interim pain for future gain.
Its perpetuation, however, will more deeply ingrain a mindset that is beginning to manifest with very destructive results in terms of morale and trust in the relationship between employer and employee.
In our own circulation area we have seen a number of recent examples of shameful treatment, indeed virtual abandonment, of workers when businesses have entered serious trading difficulties.
A small but growing number of companies and corporations are evidently using the prevailing economic climate as justification for the total disregard of their statutory and moral obligations towards employees whose services they dispense with.
If such practices are not checked by firm Government action – by the strengthening of employment legislation if necessary, but certainly by its rigorous imposition in all circumstances – they will become the norm for industrial relations in this country and create a massive deterioration in these relations that will retard the restoration of the economy to efficient functioning.
That will offer a bleak prospect indeed for the new generations of Irish people that the Census findings indicate will be the inheritors of the legacy, good or ill, that will stem from how we solve the problems confronting us at the present time.
The early Census indications are that of a country in the thrall of change.
The cultural and ethnic diversity we have experienced in recent decades does not appear to be a transitory phase in our history but rather an increasingly imbedded and flourishing aspect of modern Irishness that is here to stay and will have to be increasingly accommodated in the drafting of social policy and the conduct of community relations.
But powerful traditions in our culture still endure.
The conventional family unit is still the predominant mode of living, and adherence to the Catholic faith, in private profession if not necessarily in public practice, is still the religious path followed by the majority of the population.
Yet choice is being exercised more openly in both these areas of Irish life, with the Census revealing many more people willing to declare their profession of different faith traditions, or none, or their involvement in same-sex relationships.
Although some might divine from these findings a prevailing conservatism in practice and outlook, they are perhaps equally indicative of a country where enduring values are, rather than being under threat from the forces of change, sufficiently comfortably established as to allow for a growing tolerance of alternatives beliefs and attitudes.
Whatever the picture of the present and future Ireland is that the Census findings fully disclose to us in time, the country is going through many dimensions of growth, and its fair share of growing pains.
Hopefully they are the prelude to a future of renewal and prosperity.

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