It is time for optimism. After so many years of bad news, the economy is growing again and growing strongly, with 80,000 new jobs have been created in the last 24 months and unemployment is at a five year low. Austerity budgets are over and this month will see the first tax cuts and income increases for families since the crisis hit in 2008.
These are facts backed up by hard evidence. Of course, there are those who do not want you to hear it. Those who do not want to accept positive economic progress in case it hinders their own political progress. However we still face major challenges, but our ability as a nation to work together, to pick the country up off its knees, and defy the naysayers at home and abroad, is something we can all be immensely proud of.
Ireland’s recovery didn’t happen by accident. It happened because Labour in Government got to work on day one. With Fine Gael, we worked relentlessly on job creation and economic growth. We renegotiated the troika deal and then got rid of them. We invested billions in stimulus programmes and reformed major aspects of welfare, training, activation and education. We fixed the nation’s finances. It has worked.
It was not easy. Difficult decisions had to be made which no one liked. There is no simple way to increase taxes and reduce spending – something that had to be done.
Hard decisions were made, in good faith, for the sole purpose of rescuing the country from disaster. These policies worked.
Were those policies implemented fairly? As I have learned, each person’s view of fairness differs radically – and informed judgement is impossible without knowing the alternatives or the consequences of inaction. There were some decisions I fought hard against – with mixed results. In the end the policies worked. I will not apologise for actions which led to our country’s recovery, when the alternative was a national calamity. In fact, I am deeply proud of mine and Labour’s role in helping to fix the country.
There are those in opposition, who envelop themselves in the challenges we face to the exclusion of all else – devoid of positivity or optimism. Those who seek to turn every problem into a disaster, every challenge into a crisis and who use exaggeration and anger as tools of self-promotion.
This type of politics, addicted to misery and bad news, is an empty philosophy. It proffers no credible ideas on how to create jobs and improve the economy. It has no budget plans, no education, health or welfare policies. It offers nothing beyond a false platform that calls for infinite amounts of money to be spent – and always expects an imaginary someone else to pay the bill.
Real politics requires taking decisions, outlining and implementing policies and being willing on occasion, to be unpopular. The angry alternative is drenched in non-achievement. Its biggest worry now is that people should become optimistic or even hopeful, denying it the misery it feeds on. Having opposed every step in securing our country, its next move is to decry, deny and vilify the recovery the country fought so hard to create.
We all know there are still big challenges to face - low incomes, unemployment, health, housing, education, the community and caring sector. The effects of the economic collapse are still very real, but we have shown that as a nation we can achieve great things, and we can face these challenges too. Not with slogans, fairy-tales or dripping misery, but with determination, effort and time. It will not be a quick fix, but it will happen.
There is so much progress that our country can now achieve – an unthinkable possibility just a few short years ago. I have always believed that Labour has a crucial role to play in that. As the party of work our priority is simple – it is the woman or man who gets up every morning, maybe brings their kids or grandkids to school, and goes out to work. These are the people who generate the means that allow us to achieve nobler things, be it well-funded education and health services or the ability to look after pensioners, carers and those who can’t work. The economy must work for them with economic growth being shared by the many – not just funnelled to the few.
Ireland faces a clear choice when the next election is held. On the one hand, there are those such as Labour, with a vision for a better Ireland of shared prosperity, backed up with real policies and a proud record of fixing the country. Or alternatively, there are those without ideas or achievement, dealing exclusively in, and thriving on anger and misery – and consequently offering little else.
I’m told the odds are against me, but again, it is time for optimism - I look forward to the fight.
Derek Nolan is the Labour Party TD for Galway West.