There has been a lot of talk recently about the decline in traditional civic values amongst the Irish people, evidenced by low turnouts for referenda and absenteeism from jury duty.
While I think there may be some truth to this, the government should also bear some responsibility for doing nothing to promote civic pride and a sense of duty.
By and large, our political landscape is dominated by petty squabbling, parochialism and corruption. It has been a long time since we had a leader of conviction who espoused a strong and compelling vision for Ireland.
Whatever the detractors say about the late Charles Haughey, he was a charismatic leader who wasn’t afraid to think big. His legacy included projects on a grand scale such as the regeneration of Temple Bar, the IFSC, IMMA and tax breaks for artists. Projects that instilled a sense of pride in civil society (that he was also a total gangster is immaterial to this argument!).
And as for referenda, I would argue that the recent low turnouts have been a factor of the absolutely fatuous nature of the questions put to the electorate.
While it is apparent to all that there are fundamental challenges facing this country and that our political system and constitution are both in need of drastic reform, recent referenda have been insulting to our collective intelligence.
The Nice treaty was rejected and brought back to the people until the government got the answer they wanted, the abortion referendum was structured in such a way that there was no good option, only the lesser of two evils, the Children’s referendum was a total waste of time, since our constitution already enshrined the protection of children, and this week’s Seanad debacle doesn’t address the real issue which is the reform of the Oireachtas in its entirety.
It’s worth noting that the cost of running a referendum is somewhere in the region of €20m. In a climate where the government is desperately looking at ways to cut costs, that’s quite a sum (and ironically the amount the government is telling us we’ll save by abolishing the Upper House!).