2007: Reasons for pessimism
The next year is likely to be important for Ireland. Two elections take place that will decide much about our politics and possibly our society on both parts of the island for a while.
It hardly matters whether Fianna Fáil and the PDs or Fine Gael with allies or Fianna Fáil and Labour are elected to office next May or June or whenever the election is held in the South. Not a lot will change aside from some faces. Broadly speaking, the same policies will be followed, with perhaps a little tinkering here or there.
The basic structure of society will remain the same, with the same division of wealth, income, opportunity, health, education, power and influence. But the election campaign might stir up a bit of awareness which, in the long run, might change things. If, in part, the election is fought on how now to distribute the fruits of our economic success, we might get somewhere. If there was focus on the huge disparities in health welfare, for instance – how poor people die years younger of all the major diseases as compared with rich people – there might be some awakening. If it were shown that the promises on the regeneration of deprived areas around the country were all abandoned, something might happen.
If more people perceived how the agenda is set for elections and for public debate, by a self-interested and/or comatose media, backed up by the political establishment, then there might be future hope of change. If concern for crime focused even a little on the causes of crime – even a bit – and on the incidence of a major crime epidemic, sex crime, there might be progress.
We hope to contribute in this way to the debate both through Village magazine and our website, www.village.ie.
Elections to the Northern Ireland assembly are scheduled for 7 March. If, as a result of these elections, there emerges a powersharing executive, backed by a strong popular mandate, then there could be real progress with the peace process there and an expectation of movement towards reconciliation. But the omens are not encouraging.
It is likely that the election campaign will harden attitudes on the unionist side, especially within the DUP, making it difficult, if not impossible, for those members of the DUP who want to take part in powersharing after the election.
In the longer term that will not, or should not, matter for the trajectory of events there is towards peace and reconciliation, even though the latter is a long way off as yet.
Internationally, the new year starts with a war, another war in Africa, this time involving Ethiopia and Somalia, two of the poorest countries of the world. This is likely to involve Eritrea, which has already been at war with Ethiopia, the country from which it gained its independence. The added ingredient of Islamic jihad is a further complicating factor which could yet have even wider ramifications.
The war in Iraq has reached disastrous proportions, now likely to be further intensified by the execution of Saddam Hussein. Indications of a change of direction within the US administration appear to have been deceptive. America is embedded there for quite a long while, whatever party assumes the presidency in the years from now.
In Europe two issues predominate: the possible accession of Turkey to the EU, and the ratification of the new constitution. With a myopia rivalled only by the Americans, many Europeans are avowed opponents of Turkey's accession, not just on grounds of human rights and economics but on ethnic and religious grounds. For it is on these latter two grounds – ethnic and religious – that Europeans should welcome Turkey's accession. The accession would be a bridge to the Islamic world and a signal that Europe is not at war with Islam.
But that is a hope perhaps too optimistic.