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Ireland is at a crossroads in its history

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 10th November, 2010 5:00pm

The next couple of months will be defining moments in Irish history.

Such is the depth of the financial crisis engulfing the State that the prospect of bankruptcy is being openly spoken about.

On the now infamous international money markets, lenders are running scared after German Angela Merkel’s suggestion that private creditors must share in the cost of resolving any future eurozone debt crises.

There’s fears that Ireland’s credit will dry up completely, with lenders believing that an EU bailout of Ireland would leave them facing a discount.

And aside from the now countless billions we are pouring into the banks, we are drowning in a budgetary abyss of our own making, where up to €15bn will need to be taken out of spending in four years.

The deflationary impact of these swingeing cuts will turn the recession into a depression and leave Ireland stymied by debt and fear for a decade.

Thousands of people are losing their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet and to pay for the most basic. Thousands more are increased worried that they may be unable to meet their mortgage repayments.

And the reality is that there is a sizeable chance that the next year will be bleaker still.

With all this despair, sometimes, some perspective can be useful.

This week Fr Aidan Ryan, based in Ballinahown, told this paper that his time on the missions in Africa had given him a sense of Ireland’s place in the world.

“What we regard as recession would be far in advance what the majority of the world is living in, and we hear a lot about tightening of belts, but what we have here would look like an extremely expanded waistline in Africa.”

And another different perspective on our current troubles was provided by a UN Development Programme report which ranked Ireland fifth in a quality-of-life index.

Ireland retained its spot in the top five countries in the annual Human Development Index, with just Norway, Australia, New Zealand and the US rated as better places to call home.

Despite the country’s recent economic turmoil, Ireland remains unchanged since 2005, while Iceland, which suffered its own financial meltdown, slipped by 10 places to 17th place in that period.

Ireland is among 42 countries which have a “very high human development” ranking based on indicators such as life expectancy at birth, which stands at 80.3 years; gross national income per capita, which is $33,078; and average schooling totalling 11.6 years.

In Zimbabwe, ranked last out of 169 on the list, life expectancy is just 47 years, average schooling stands at 7.2 years, and gross national income per capita is just €176.

Our starting point as a nation must be that things could be a lot worse - and that we must redouble our efforts to ensure they don’t get any worse.

We need to work together to dig ourselves - and our children - out of this mess.

By all means, we should retain the fury and anger of a people whose country has been brought to the brink by political and financial stupidity. Justice must be seen to be done and those whose criminal actions contributed to this economic disaster must be held to account.

But more than that, to chart the way forward, we need clarity of thought, rather than this fog of confusion that envelops the country.

We need a sense of shared purpose that we can all agree on.

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