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Sunday 1 January 2006

Making a great little nation even better

WE are, of course, a great little country and it's understandable that having emerged blinking into the bright lights after all the decades of gloom and guilt we're big on self-congratulation. But we're not perfect yet.

Here are 10 suggestions for easily-carried-out New Year resolutions that would make Ireland more attractive. In seasonal spirit, I'm refraining from looking for anything as challenging as having our terrorists locked up and Sinn Fein wiped off the electoral map.

  1. Stop whingeing about the past. Apart from parochial Irish-America, it mostly makes us look pathetic abroad. Last October, touting around the EU looking for sympathy for Ireland's colonised past, Gerry Adams met a stony response from the few who turned up to meet him: there is not a country on mainland Europe that has not suffered far more than Ireland.

    Not only are we not the Most Oppressed People Ever, but famine or no famine, we are and have been exceptionally fortunate.

  2. Commemorate all our dead. Bertie Ahern has decided we must have an Easter parade honouring "all those who took part in the Rising and the subsequent War of Independence the statesmen who founded the Free State, as well as those who stood by the Republic. We will also recall the suffering and loss of that time."

    It would be a great leap of maturity to commemorate not just those Bertie regards as patriots, but the many hundreds who were murdered or accidentally killed as a result of an insurrection they didn't want, a guerrilla war they opposed and a civil war they wanted no part of, as well as the 35,000 or so who died in World War One in conditions far more terrible than anything endured by those who stayed home.

  3. Stop making the clergy scapegoats for the historical failings of our society. There has been much justifiable anger about past ill-treatment of the vulnerable in institutions, but that's no reason to blame everything on the clergy, bad and good. As Kevin Myers - to the best of my knowledge the only journalist who stood up for her when she was wrongly convicted in 1999 - put it: "Might not poor Nora Wall have become the lightning conductor for all the storm-clouds of rage that have built up over these events?" But she is not the only victim.

    Many Irish children were badly treated by their families as well as their teachers and by the laity as well as the clergy and - for the most part - our politicians and the electorate appeared at the time not to give a damn. We should remember the tens of thousands of nuns and priests and brothers and sisters who did their best.

  4. Don't abandon the poor to the Provos. The failure of the Celtic Tiger to look after the unfortunate in inner cities and sink estates is a disgrace. We can hardly be surprised that people in communities ravaged by drugs and despair should vote for Sinn Fein - the only party that appears regularly on their streets - however dodgy their credentials and suspect their sincerity.

  5. Save our language. Follow the advice of those who truly love Irish in a disinterested way, and make it voluntary.

  6. Embrace dissent. Perhaps because of our Catholic authoritarian roots, we are devils for orthodoxy, and, as a culture, try to stifle debate about fashionable dogmas: an example is the treatment meted out over the past few years to anyone showing proper scepticism towards the peace process.

  7. Get to know an Ulster Prod. Our Taoiseach said recently: "we need to listen to the voice of unionism and of loyalism. If we are serious about a shared future, we need to recognise and respect both what we have in common and what we disagree about." That means listening rather than lecturing. Oh, and as a gesture, we could speak and write about 'Northern Ireland' - which it is - rather than 'the North', which it isn't, and which sets every unionist tooth on edge.

  8. Start talking about duties rather than rights. The pendulum has swung too far: our children are brought up believing life is more about taking than giving.
  9. Curtail the powers of Niall Crowley and the Equality Agency.

  10. Make a gesture to historical accuracy. Every day, someone is accused of behaving like King Canute in trying to stop the inevitable. In fact, the excellent Canute, an 11th-Century Danish king of England, was asked by his foolish and sycophantic courtiers to make the incoming tide retreat. He made the unsuccessful demand with great ceremony in order to demonstrate that even a king's powers are limited. Even if you ignore every other resolution, there's no excuse not to keep this one.

Happy New Year.

Ruth Dudley Edwards


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