26 June 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard


Our country finds itself on the cusp of uncertainty. In a few days’ time we could have political stability in the form of a new majority Government, or heightened instability as parties scramble around for alternatives to the second General Election of the year. On Monday next, another significant phase in the Roadmap to Recovery from the strictures and deprivations of the Covid-19 medical emergency will be embarked upon with heightened freedoms of movement and association and further reopening of important dimensions of the economy.

But the steps will be taken in the shadows of fears of a second wave of the Coronavirus fuelled by unsettling increases in the incidence of illness in countries across the world which have recently eased control measures. And the cost of Covid-19 is beginning to be measured and understood in real and very stark terms. The toll the pandemic has visited on personal and national financial circumstances forms a burden to be carried long after the virus itself has abated and there does not seem any realistic prospect of a quick remedy.

All these elements of uncertainty are interwoven. Even if the Programme for Government is endorsed by the party members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party and their grand coalition launched, the seas it will encounter will be immediately stormbroiled by the ever-present need to measure the further easing of Covid-19 restrictions against the possible resurgence of the virus, and the urgency of transfusing lifeblood into our emaciated economy. While we have a functioning Government in place that has in a caretaker capacity dealt largely well with the unprecedented demands of the hour, legislative complexities are emerging which signal that its time is nigh.

We are also well past 100 days since the nation voted with the expectation of putting a new administration in office and it does not seem right or proper, even in extraordinary global times, to deny their will much further. So the decisions being made these days by the FF, FG and Green Party memberships carry considerable responsibility, much more so than on past occasions when the double-edged sword of coalition participation was being weighed by them in the scales. The doubts harboured by some in the ranks of both FF and FG about forming a partnership with each other will be substantial and carry a burdensome weight of history – and there are many cautionary tales in the narrative of our recent political story to make the Green grassroots understandably wary about accepting a junior government position. Extinction, not exaltation, could be their portion. But should old rivalries and internecine anxieties bear decisively on this decision at a time when the country is struggling out of the grip of a tenacious pandemic and into the grasp of recession? There is certainly a case for the broader picture to be considered.

The recovery path that the country must walk away from the Coronavirus is still only tightrope-thick in expanse, and each step taken must felicitously weigh economic imperatives against ensuring that infection levels remain such that our health system can sustain their pressures and begin to attend to the non-Covid medical needs of our population that have been perilously postponed. Such a hazardous journey can only be safely accomplished by a Government not looking constantly over its shoulder. And only a Government with a reasonable prospect of lasting a five-year term can begin to grabble with the depth and complexity of the economic problems Covid-19 will leave as a legacy.

There will be those who will say that any alliance between two such traditionally antagonistic forces as FF and FG is inherently unstable, with or without the addition of an unpredictable third element advancing an environmental agenda that delights many but makes important sectors of the economy such as agriculture and manufacturing deeply uneasy. And Sinn Féin will lead the argument that the whole Programme for Government project is a fundamental dishonouring of the mandate for change made clear in the voting patterns of the February General Election, with its own rejection as a prospective participant proof positive that the proposed new arrangement has no prospect of enjoying the public favour it will surely need to make the tough decisions and implement the remedial measures that our post- Covid economic circumstances will render inevitable.

During the early period of the Covid-19 crisis, the posturing engaged in by some elements of the current Programme for Government players about the urgent necessity of forming a new administration for the national good smacked strongly of the cynical and opportunistic.

At the current stage of the public health emergency, when there is clear need for careful medium-term and longer-term decision-making to keep the economy functioning and solvent while avoiding recidivism in containment measures, a stable framework for national government is essential. The programme evolved by FF, FG and the Greens may or may not be the platform for such stability. But the failure of its endorsement, and the futile attempt to forge alternative permutations that would almost inevitably proceed another General Election, is a guarantor of instability less than helpful in these uncertain times.

SF and others can test the mettle of the proposed tripartite alliance in the unforgiving crucible of the Dáil Chamber, and, if it is there exposed as inadequate to the challenges confronting it, the clamour for change if unheeded now will surely be much more decisively articulated when the voters are next required to pass their judgement. The philosopher Erich Fromm, who escaped the Nazis’ Jewish persecution, knew more than most about uncertainty, which he once described as: “the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.” The challenge inherent in Fromm’s words will hopefully instruct those aspiring to government and those with the power to fulfil or dash those aspirations over the coming days.

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