Three wishes for 2012

Fresh from a few whirlwind weeks of book promotion and PR, I’ve been trying to relax and celebrate Christmas here in Dublin, but it’s never easy.

For one thing, Christmas in Ireland is celebrated with the boundless madness that pervaded ancient Rome, with tons of food and drink and promises not to eat or drink this much again for a very long time.

For another, my appearances last week on Pat Kenny’s programmes on RTE TV¬†and radio prompted huge amounts of feedback, and for once I’m wishing my days away. I’m looking forward to getting back to Stockholm and getting stuck into a whole bunch of different initiatives.

I said in the foreword to A Parish Far From Home that I did not recognise the Ireland often depicted in the media here, and those interviews showed signs of finally proving me to be at least partially right.

There is a huge amount of energy and ideas that, with a little help from our friends, can be channelled into real achievements, real businesses, real art, real jobs. As with Dave Browne’s staggering world record back in June, sometimes you just have to do something.

But there is still a lot that is rotten at the core of Irish society – it cannot be changed overnight, but in 2012 we can make steps towards making our society and the debate that surrounds it more open and inclusive.

Here’s three of them.

Reform the laws that govern our media: It should not be possible for the powerful to suppress valid critcism and discussion simply by threatening legal action. What is needed is an independent system where those who feel wronged by the media – and there are many who rightfully feel they have a case – can get justice.

In turn, the media in Ireland needs to have a long, hard look at itself. So do those of us who consume it.

Too many stories are written before the subjects are even interviewed, and what passes for debate is often two extreme sides locking horns, completely unrepresentative of the vast swathe of opinion that occupies the middle ground.

We all need to be more reasonable, to listen more and to be willing to question what we believe to be right. There is no other path to lasting change.

There is also a lot we are not being told. When an argument does not stand up to public scrutiny, it is either wrong or not the real reason behind a decision or policy. For too long we have been spun different yarns- who will pay the nurses and the Gardai? Our ATMs will be out of cash by Monday and the rest – which are as idiotic as they are simplistic.

There a highly complex political reasons for why Ireland cannot be seen to win in our struggle against Europe and the financial woes that afflict us, but our leaders think that we can’t or won’t understand them.

We gave the world Joyce and Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Paul McGrath – try us.

And if we still don’t understand them, give us an education system that gives our children the tools to do so.

That way, we might prevent it from ever happening again.

Get involved: Far too many of us sit on the sidelines and don’t take part.
A friend of mine ended a lifetime of political inertia to go canvass for a party in the February election.
The messages on the doorsteps taught him more about the Irish political climate than a lifetime on the internet politics message boards. Since then, he has trotted back to the sidelines – one strike and he was out.
It’s a simple fact of democracy – the more of us that engage ourselves, the purer our democracy becomes. There is little or no chance of changing things from the outside. If you’re not in, you can’t win.
Talk about it: For once, let us have a story that runs and runs to a happy conclusion. 2011 has put suicide on the map in Ireland, often grudgingly so. Make no mistake- there are those who, like certain employers in the PR business, do not want to see the discussion take place in public.

It is a discussion that is painful for all of us, as it confronts us with our shortcomings as friends and siblings and lovers. It also asks us the deepest questions of ourselves – could we ever think of doing it ourselves? What would happen to our children and our friends and families?

However painful that discussion is, it is nowhere near as painful as sitting with a pill jar or a noose in your hand.

So let’s keep the discussion going. And if at the end of next year we find that less people have taken their own lives than this year, let’s keep it going for another year after that.

Happy New Year.