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Sport sole relief in tough year

December 18, 2011 • Editorials, Opinion,

The Irish rugby team provided a sporting win to savour at Eden Park. (File pic)

It has been a year of upheaval.

Few could have predicted how Ireland could change and change utterly in the space of 12 months.

The European debt crisis continues to present grave challenges to Ireland and the other 26 members of the European Union.

Uncertainty pervades. The Irish Government has sought legal counsel on the need to hold a referendum on the fiscal accord hammered out in crisis talks last week.

Voters’ recent form on European referenda is not something that will provide comfort to the Taoiseach.

The Irish public continue to pay the price for the mistakes of a former government and a financial cohort who put short-term self-interest ahead of the national good.

It is disquieting that few have paid a price for their actions.

The recent budget, announced over two days, has made gruesome reading. Austerity is a word that almost every Irish man and woman now understands with clarity. It doesn’t mean they like it.

In 2011, we have seen the explosive fallout from incidences of clerical child sex abuse in the diocese of Cloyne, the eradication of Fianna Fáil as an electoral force, a controversial and at times bizarre presidential election campaign and the appointment of Ireland’s first female Chief Justice.

Irish politics lost some of its members to illness and old-age. Brian Lenihan and Garret FitzGerald passed away prompting differing assessments of their legacies.

As is often the Irish experience, sport provided a welcome distraction in times of economic strife. Ireland beating Australia at Eden Park at the Rugby World Cup was an unexpected but delightful moment.

Giovanni Trapattoni was not to be outdone. The manner of the Republic of Ireland’s play-off success was not something that fans of Irish soccer see often, if ever.

The Irish in Australia continue to write their own story.

More of us are arriving. Ireland was in the top ten source countries for skilled migration to Australia this year in absolute terms and the largest in per capita terms.

We welcome tentative moves by the Irish Government to work with Western Australia to structure an apprenticeship scheme to accept Irish workers. With emigration once again a fraught topic in Ireland, a softly-softly approach is needed.

Of course, the most prevalent Irish person in Australia was Qantas CEO Alan Joyce – at one point the third most mentioned man on the planet – who made headlines as the airline and unions battled it out.

Prior to the dispute, he was the target of some ill-considered commentary. Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan haphazardly referred to him as a ‘bomb maker’. Earlier, The Australian newspaper had apologised for an article, which mocked the Dubliner’s accent.

There were other incidences of paddywhackery too, such as Tony Abbott’s ill-judged Irish gaffe at the Libs’ party conference and WA State Premier Colin Barnett’s comments about the ‘leprechaun of Joondalup’.

Such commentary is daft and politically damaging.

More recently, the Australian Treasury’s plan to scrap the Living Away From Home Allowance (LAFHA) left many expats scratching their heads over what to do next.

For many temporary workers with families, the fringe tax benefit was used to help pay rent, childcare, school fees or the mortgage back in Ireland.  If the cost of residing in Australia remains prohibitive for skilled workers then they may simply look elsewhere. Something will have to give.

Next year looms as another difficult one for Ireland.

More austerity, more emigration, more economic hardship.

As we face the uncertainty of 2012, we wish our readers, advertisers, subscribers, friends and colleagues a safe and happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

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