As we enter the last week of the election, you’d be forgiven for getting a certain picture of Ireland if you relied on what’s being said in the campaign.
A country so poor that hardly anybody can afford to make even a token contribution towards a GP visit.
A country that has practically no functioning A&E system, or at least one that is in “absolute chaos”.
A country where there has been no increase in employment numbers, no pay rises, no new businesses, and no returning emigrants.
A country where a majority of people can barely feed, clothe or house themselves.
A country where hardly any public money is spent on those with disabilities or the elderly.
An awful place which then chooses to measure itself against a mythical vision of a country advocated by revolutionaries 100 years ago whilst ignoring that large numbers of those revolutionaries actually took part in the running of the country for over half a century, making it the country it is today.
Then there is another vision of a country.
One of the longest functioning democracies in Europe.
A country that never surrendered to the temptation of fascism or communism.
A country that has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and yes, has a health service that is superior to huge numbers of other countries.
A country that will spend €19.8 billion on social welfare in 2016. €12.9 billion on health. €8.4 billion on education.
A country that Greece would look at and wish it were doing as well.
Why the discrepancy? Because there is a conflict at the heart of the Irish psyche, an anger that we struggle to contain.
We still can’t accept that this is our country, and that what happens here is mostly to do with us. Sure, we live in a world of international finance and globalisation and yes, we did save the euro and yes, we are owed for it.
But how our hospitals run, what we pay for water, or pay our nurses, how we treat women with crisis pregnancies, or refugees, how we tax ourselves, how many homes we build, that’s all us. All that is our responsibility as a sovereign people and therefore our fault.
Yet we refuse to accept that. Many of us believe that “fairness” is some sort of natural occurring phenomenon that costs nothing. That it’s just there to be grasped but wicked politicians won’t give it to us.
That’s what stops us being a great nation. The refusal to accept that yes, everything has a price, whether in taxes or work practices or other policies.
To do one thing, you have to sacrifice something else.
When we vote on Friday, at least half of us will vote for a candidate who has been good “for the local area”.
That’s your problem right there.
We’re not looking at the ballot paper and asking ourselves whether this candidate or that candidate has a plan for Ireland as a whole.
We have constantly voted local, and it hasn’t worked, not even locally. We elect, for example, local TDs who are more interested, because they believe that’s what their voters want, in keeping small badly equipped local hospitals open than creating an effective national air ambulance service that works. Given a choice between that service getting you quickly to a proper hospital with a dedicated and experienced trauma unit, or keeping a local pre-morgue with “hospital” over the door, we choose the latter.
It’s the same with Garda stations. Getting a Garda patrol to your home quickly has almost nothing to do with Garda stations, yet we’re obsessed with putting resources into manning buildings over putting more patrols on the streets and roads.
Sure, there are those who will argue, perfectly fairly, that if they don’t elect a local champion the county or parish will be ignored. It’s a fair point, but never followed to its logical conclusion. If we feel that Dublin won’t do what’s needed in the county, then stop begging Dublin for attention and take the power locally. Yet how many local champions will be demanding local government reform, and for local decisions and taxes to be decided locally?
We choose the way this country is to work in free and fair elections.
We are a great nation. We can be greater. But to get there we have to vote on Friday not for the parish but for Ireland.