THIS week’s poll on the fiscal treaty is taking place in truly extraordinary circumstances.
It could be argued that not since the State’s foundation, have the Irish people found themselves so bewildered, disillusioned and frightened by the scale of the economic crisis.
That is the background against which we will go out to vote. The context was seldom more important. And the result will have a telling impact on our access to funds to run our beleaguered country.
Voting Yes is an opportunity to make a small contribution to a recovery which will, hopefully, come in time.
When we mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising in a few years, we should devote a good deal of time to how this State and those who ran it largely failed our people.
We should consider why this routine treaty is so necessary to rescue us financially.
And we should be blunt enough to recognise that those failures have produced some very bad days indeed.
The early days of this State were not easy. Economic conditions were dire. The Civil War was to define politics for decades.
There was a corrosive bitterness which defined politics for decades.
The Catholic Church was a domineering force, with the State only too happy to allow the institution do its work in the areas of education and health.
While much good work was done, there was also the shocking ill-treatment of children in institutions. The most vulnerable among the young were beaten, abused and largely abandoned.
We were the island of saints and scholars, after all. Nothing like that could happen in Ireland. Cover-up and denial were rampant.
In the post-war years, the country was on its knees with little evidence of any kind of real economic progress. Emigration was rampant. It was a corrosive social fever seemingly incapable of being cured.
An estimated 400,000 people emigrated in the decade between 1951 and ’61. Later, when there was a temporary economic upswing, we prided ourselves in ending emigration.
And now, God help us, it is back with a vengeance.
The grim anecdote that it is easier to field a GAA team in New York or London or Adelaide, rather than in a rural parish, is painfully true.
Many of our emigrants, particularly in the bad old days, were no more than exported social casualties, ignored by their political betters at home except for attending the annual St Patrick’s Day dinner.
Eamon de Valera could even claim that there were sufficient jobs at home for those leaving in droves. We were a deferential people.
Instead of driving him from office, we remained largely mute.
And then came the great Sean Lemass, emerging from Dev’s shadow to become Taoiseach. It was 1959 and the country was a basket case. Some commentators, more in sorrow than in anger, wondered if the country had a future at all.
Assisted by a dynamic civil servant Dr T K Whitaker, he ended protectionism and cast a keen and patriotic eye towards Europe.
Rather than wallow in the old ways, he saw that Ireland had much to gain from Europe. And so, a half-century ago, he made his first moves to have Ireland join the then EEC. He was rebuffed.
But we had staked our claim for a seat on the European train.
In 1973, Mr Lemass’s successor, Jack Lynch, realised his mentor’s ambition and we finally joined the EEC. Mr Lemass’s priority was securing the country’s economic independence.
He knew that our political independence was largely pointless if we did not become a modern State capable of providing jobs for our people.
Along the way that dream was lost through greed, incompetence and, in some cases, corruption.
Europe has, overall, been good for Ireland. Farming has gained. Industrial jobs were secured, even if not all of them stood the pace of time.
We became a more open society. Working in European countries was an option. We saw the value of learning other languages.
Equal pay for women was introduced because the Government of the day was bluntly told by Brussels that pleading an inability to pay was no excuse.
The post-Lemass failure of leadership, apart from some brief moments of achievement, was not the fault of Brussels. It was the fault of our own elite, some politicians, bankers, developers and so on.
They failed us. And failed us badly. All too often, auction politics replaced patriotism.
Today, we would not have the money to run the country if it was not coming from Europe. We may need money again in the form of that potentially infamous and much-feared second bailout.
The fiscal treaty, if passed, will do more than provide us with the necessary funds to pay public servants and social welfare recipients.
It will curb, by way of scrutiny from Brussels, any repeat of the excesses of the past when it was believed by those in power that a property boom would help us pay our way indefinitely.
A Yes vote will not end austerity. But it will help us battle it in the short and long-term.
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