4 January 2019 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The soothsaying that traditionally goes on when one year turns into another has been in full swing over recent days, and in some respects its focus suggests that the months ahead will be preoccupied with much of the same concerns that came to define 2018 for the people of Co Monaghan and Ireland as a whole.

The shadow of Brexit that grew increasingly larger over the course of last year certainly looms with somewhat menacing aspect as 2019 starts its course. As our story on page one this week illustrates, the long unthinkable ‘no deal’ outcome has assumed troubling substance given the apparently insuperable difficulties confronting British Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to get the deal brokered with the EU through the House of Commons.

Today the Irish Government is meeting to make legislative plans for the ripple effects of Britain crashing out of, rather than making an orderly departure from, the European Union – impacts likely to be felt first and most forcefully in our own county and the wider Border area.

The proposed legislative safeguards expected to emerge from today’s Cabinet discussions will be scrutinised with particular intensity by those responsible for enterprise development in our county. Co Monaghan businesses were preoccupied throughout 2018 with getting “Brexit-ready”, and while many have exercised foresight and considerable planning for the anticipated challenges and opportunities, they will be understandably anxious for reassurance that their efforts are not undermined or made redundant should the worst-case scenario manifest.

Minister Heather Humphreys in a statement to the Northern Standard this week expresses confidence in the innate resilience and adaptability of our entrepreneurs and businesspeople to weather whatever storms the Brexit endgame brings in its wake. And she cites the considerable investment which has been directed into job creation and community development in Co Monaghan in the last year as evidence that the Government has our backs, so to speak, and that the people of these parts will not, as was the case quite often in the past, have to rely on their own fortitude when adverse economic circumstances manifest.

But the Minister will also be acutely conscious that until now the ‘no deal’ outcome was hardly foregrounded in Government preparations, and there is a need for further substantive guarantees and concrete proposals to reinforce the sense of security that may well have been derived from previous investment and planning.

While the economic implications of Brexit are rightly to the fore in local concerns, there is also considerable anxiety in our county about what might happen with regard to law and order and the preservation of peace should the UK departure deal fall by the wayside. Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin in his own commentary on the situation this week reminds the Taoiseach and the Government of the vital importance of remaining steadfast in its previously stated commitments to Northern Ireland’s nationalist community as the Brexit process plays out in the months to come, and the call is a timely one.

Uncertainty is not a good climate for the preservation of peace, and there is no doubt that the anxieties that Brexit have stirred are more difficult to abate in the ongoing absence of the devolved governmental institutions in the North. All political parties in the North have an urgent obligation to ensure that this unacceptable hiatus of one of the key peace process outcomes and mechanisms is brought to an end before this New Year enters its maturity.

As well as Brexit, other ‘hardy annuals’ will remain prominent on the national and local political agendas through this year. The crises of housing and homelessness persist despite the unprecedented levels of expenditure committed by the Government to construction and other provision programmes. It is surely clear that throwing money at this problem is not sufficient – those who are living on the streets need a fundamental redrafting of the supports that are available to them, while the issues of rising rent prices and the increasing scale of income levels that make owning a home a realistic prospect for families also require address through legislation and social policy. Building houses alone will not solve the housing problems that beset our country.

Similarly, pouring money into the bottomless pit of our health services will not remedy the state of decay into which the Irish hospital system has been allowed to descend. It is the system itself which is sick, and radical and bold reforms are needed if one of the vital components of any caring and developed society is not to collapse completely in the year ahead.

2019 will bring local government and European elections and the likelihood of further referenda, although the latter will assuredly not prove as contentious or divisive as the vote which this year paved the way for the making available from January 1 of limited abortion services for Irish women. While access to abortion has now become legally available, the service and the manner of its provision is likely to be an issue of recurrent controversy in the year ahead. It is doubtful whether all the necessary resources and structures to deliver a service of benefit to those women who have recourse to it are yet in place, and extremely doubtful whether the level of public acceptance of its availability has yet reached the stage where access to it will be as straightforward and free from attention as those needing it would wish.

Although foreshadowed by Brexit and all its uncertainties, the year ahead has the promise of positivity and progress for Co Monaghan. The many good news stories attached to enterprise in the county this year will continue to deliver on the economic front and the new Monaghan Co Council elected in May will find itself in an environment denoted by business confidence and community growth. We are not without our challenges, but we have a proven capacity to prosper in adversity and find solutions to problems even if they are not of our own making.

It is therefore with abiding confidence in the Co Monaghan capacity to survive and thrive that we wish our readership the fulfilment of their hopes and dreams throughout 2019.

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