Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Ten wishes for what will be a difficult year ahead

I preface these aspirations by saying that 2011, under the combined administration of Fine Gael and Labour in a powerful coalition, has turned an important corner.

It has established sound government, given clear political leadership and made an effective start on reform and change. The Government has not done enough but the start made is reassuring.

The disaster that preceded this is becoming a dim but still bitter memory. It created massive problems and left us stripped of sovereignty and of real wealth. Yet one of the good results, a year ago, was that a spirit of recovery and unexpected determination emerged and will underpin what we do in the coming year.

My first wish is that we should prepare to leave the euro and plan a national currency linked to sterling, at an appropriate discount to serve our export trade and to make it easier to become a competitive and organic state once again. We need to direct our own affairs. We need to do it within the close relationships with Northern Ireland and the US. But above all, we need to recognise and develop the true bonds that link us to the UK.

My second wish is that a more belligerent self-interest be asserted by the Government. At present we are paying much more than lip-service to the banks in order to keep them in their business which is increasingly hurting ours. This means we are in 'wait-and-see' mode. We think the EU has a plan. It has no plan. It has failed with every plan offered and it failed with the last summit. Meanwhile, we continue to pay out bond debts that dwarf our budget and other savings. We must stop. Now. European leadership is doing what the lobby of banking interests wants it to do. They are trying to salvage loans that can never be repaid and will drag us and the banks under. This is a public, political and democratic disgrace. We should cut ourselves free of this bank debt. We are due to bail out failed bank bondholders to the tune of over €3bn in January. This is insane, as well as immoral. It must be stopped.

Thirdly, and in conjunction with this, we should reaffirm our links with the EU and our continuing membership of this powerful group of countries. Doing this will reinforce and strengthen our moral right to use the axe in cutting ourselves free of the bank debt. We owe much development to the EU. We have a part to play in future reform. Europe needs democracy as badly as we needed it a hundred years ago. Power in the EU must be representative of the people and we have a right and duty to be involved whatever our currency.

Fourthly, I want the country's reforms -- a vital part of the new Government's mandate -- to be deep and radical. I want to see restored a vital public service. We must dismantle the absurd semi-state offshoots of power that did not exercise that power properly and cost us much money. This will involve upgrading civil service standards and seeking to employ the best, particularly in governance of economic policy. We cannot continue with the present kaleidoscope of voices like a star of arrows sending us in every direction. Part of this reform must include the Oireachtas. We still need those we elect to have power to investigate the country's affairs more deeply.

Fifthly, in welcoming the Government's determination in putting through its house tax measures, I want to see the same urgency directed at the revaluation of properties with a view to restoring an equitable and permanent tax on properties. They are a mark of privilege and an indicator of wealth and should be taxed.

Sixthly, I want the rules on bank governance, regulation and bonuses rewritten and the same reforms and changes implemented there to govern all publicly funded service industries to the State. Within both this structure and public service generally, the regulation and policing of the use of taxpayers' money has been repeatedly shown up as inadequate. This should come under the same reform remit.

Seventh of all, I want a solution found and ring-fenced for the funding of the celebration by Ireland of its centenary. This will begin in 2016 and last until 2021. There are good programmes planned that have been shelved because of the collapse of our financial health under Fianna Fail. We need the symbolic and practical restoration of the sense of ourselves in those celebratory events. I believe that secure private bonds with redemption built in for the period of the programme's achievement would be widely supported and would pay the cost.

The eighth of my wishes concerns RTE. It became very clear, during the court case taken by Father Kevin Reynolds, that corporate governance had been abandoned in favour of self-protection, that the authority's chairman, Tom Savage, was concerned to protect the director general, Noel Curran, and that Curran was determined to avoid blame. The Government mistakenly defined the 'Prime Time' programme as an isolated lapse in standards. It was not. Programming in RTE is bad and documentary coverage worse. The station is good at delivering sports coverage. Almost everything else is biased, sloppy and agenda-led. There is no effective control. External and foreign competition is making the idea of a 'national station' increasingly absurd. RTE is part of our public service, funded by the taxpayers. It should be governed as the rest of the public service is governed.

My ninth concern is the Government's capacity to maintain its courage in the face of a level of critical assault that borders on the loutish and is essentially dog-in-the-manger. The Coalition partners have done well. They have, in my view, moved to restore national self-confidence. Their instincts about duty and service are good. Retaining them will be increasingly difficult and will require enhanced authority against a background of economic difficulties.

My tenth and last wish is for a new political party. I am deeply suspicious of a democracy whose Opposition is Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein brought warfare to Ireland for 35 years, against the will of the people, and to futile ends. Its claims about 'bringing peace' are false and its political philosophy unreliable. Fianna Fail did us greater damage than any other political party in our history. Should they perish altogether I would shed no tears. Their occupation of a prime position in parliamentary politics is unacceptable. They can and should be blocked by a new political party and I would hope to see it emerge in 2012.