Much to be optimistic about

By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)

The new year is usually a time when people’s spirits are high, when optimism is in abundance and people look forward to the challenges of the new year. That is the psychology behind new year resolutions.

The festive period, even with its excess and indulgence, acts like a bridge between the old and the new year.

It is a time when people relax, renew old acquaintances, a period when the free time instils reflection on the year just gone and how it impacted on one’s hopes, dreams and life.

It is entirely understandable if this early into the new year people are beset with a pessimistic or bleak view.

The news which plays such a dominant part in our lives is filled with bad news whether it is the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israelis, the human carnage in Iraq or the economic crisis which started out life several months ago ravaging the financial institutions of the elite and is now cutting swathes through the real economy with job losses being announced on a daily basis, north and south.

And while these are challenging problems there is much to be optimistic about even if you add the caveat cautious.

The assembly resumed business for the first time this year on Monday; a new US president, Barack Obama, will be installed in the White House next Tuesday and this year marks the centenary of the formation of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

The assembly resumed its work in the most positive political circumstances since the formation of a DUP-Sinn Féin led executive 18 months ago.

Indeed it is arguable that the current political circumstances are the best this island has faced since the British set foot here over eight centuries ago.

The cyclical threat of armed republican resistance to the injustice of British occupation has gone and been replaced by democratic politics revolving on an all-island axis.

The recent breakthrough on the transfer of policing and justice powers and the likely appointment of a justice minister in a few months time should mean a prolonged period of stability which will allow the institutions of government - the all-Ireland ministerial council, executive and assembly - to function on a planned basis and not crisis managed.

And while it is understandable that the Irish government is preoccupied with rescuing the southern economy from collapse it must actively assist the development of all-Ireland politics.

Economic issues are to the forefront of everyone’s mind, north and south. Now is the appropriate time for Taoiseach Brian Cowen to use his government’s resources to promote and secure a single currency and a single economy for this country.

The slaughter of Palestinians by the Israelis will ensure that president-elect Barack Obama will be compelled to bring forward a credible peace plan not just to end the war and occupation of Gaza but to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all.

Israel’s ruthless and inhumane killing machine might well be the very petard by which that state’s war mongers are hoist and out of the nightmare of Gaza a Palestinian state will emerge.

The centenary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, ITGWU, is a timely reminder of the importance of trade unions to protect workers’ rights - working conditions, wages and standard of living.

The prosperity working class people enjoy in today’s Ireland has been made possible because people like Jim Larkin, founder of the ITGWU, and James Connolly organised and fought for workers’ rights.

In this anniversary year the old battles might well have to be fought again to protect working class people in and out of employment.

In the face of this economic crisis the argument for stronger not weaker government intervention in the economy needs to be heard.

A social economy with as many public utilities like health, education, roads and transport under government control is a sure way to protect working people.

The free, unregulated, profit driven, competitive market delivered us the economic mess we are in today.

An alliance of progressive forces including political parties and trades unions is needed to promote the alternative - a regulated, planned all-Ireland economy with clear social objectives to meet people’s needs.

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