By L. D. BERGIN
Two things struck mc when I was asked to write about "Ireland Today". Ireland has so long been a land of yesterdays. Suddenly it is a land of tomorrows.
In the past two years, the country has been suffering from an unusual phase of the agonising torture of self-analysis, so beloved of the self-conscious Irish. This is a national pastime at any period. The difference today is that it concentrates on
the future and on our place in the outside world.
That future poses the question of how adequately we can manage in the European community. The term "Common Market" has become a sort of magic formula which no writer or speaker can afford to avoid, a cliché to the nation of talkers and writers.
All the consequential terms show that Ireland is emphasising the economic as opposed to the political. We read a proliferation of words like "productivity", "management", "a viable economy", "exports", "transition", "efficiency". These, and many others, flow from tongues lubricated with tea and the other traditional beverages which loosen the speculative faculty of most Irishmen.
But while the national debate analyses affairs with deadly ruthlessness, the talk is of a new horizon. Like all horizons, it is subject to an infinite approach, but it has, at least, set us a new if uncertain frontier for the march of the nation into the future. The anticipated and the challenge has brought a new buoyancy.
We are moving away too from the narrow nationalism of the past into a broader sense of citizenship and responsibility. Our world is shrinking in terms of time and space. Science and economic growth have made their impact.
At last the Irishman realises that his neighbour is all mankind of every description. Dr. Juan Greene, past president of our Farmers' Association, said recently: "If we profess the Christian doctrine, there is no area of neutrality where the destinies of man are concerned. If the cult of materialism tends to rule our age, then we have no business retiring into the cloister of isolated disapproval".
Irishmen throughout the ages have learned to hope because they believe. And as a nation of believers we can, in spite of the most devastating self-criticism, be true optimists in the context of Chesterton, expecting the worst while hoping for the best.
Our faith in eternity was once observed by a learned foreign cleric. He watched the cyclists and pedestrians weaving their way through the traffic of Dublin. He saw people dream their way across the busy streets, often stopping in mid-stream to clinch an argument. And, as he reflected, he concluded that the Irish live on good terms with eternity, believing not only in the immortality of the soul but also in the immortality of the body.
We have now travelled a long way from our obsessions with the politics of the Civil War. And the bitterness of that tragic episode after independence is almost assuaged. The veterans of those
L D. Bergin tumultous years are either dead, dying or quiescent. Our Premier, Mr. Lemass, and some of his colleagues still remember their youthful involvement in the freedom struggle and its aftermath. But while they are always nationalists, they are eminently pragmatic realists. They know that after many years of retreat from the realities of the wider world outside. we can no longer avoid involvement.
Mr. Lemass certainly feels and knows that we must beat with the pulse of Europe or condemn ourwises to some sort of economic twilight which no one would care to define. And in this respect the Prime Minister is the personification of the change from the old introspection to the current outward trend.
It was he who built up our light industrial competence in the 1930's behind an economic tariff wall. To-day he has changed to become the apostle of the supra-national concept and interdependence of nations which is best expressed by France's Jean Monnet.
This is the age of the professional in government all over the world. It is becoming so in Ireland. We are undergoing our own minor managerial revolution and "economic planning" is something which we must cope with. Most of us are ready to trust the planners and the economists as we trusted the politicians of the freedom struggle who carried so much weight and authority for such a long time.
But we are perhaps a little mystified by the abracadabra of tomorrow which we see perhaps through a glass darkly. Too many see the Common Market as a sort of inevitable purgative for inefficiency and an open sesame to progress.
For this reason most of us have a sublime confidence in ourselves
that makes foreigners sometimes gape with incredulity especially when they examine the vast margin between speculation and reality, between the rat race of industry and commerce in Europe and the almost pastoral simplicity in which the Irish nation appears by comparison.
Can we accept the challenge? A leading Irish diplomatist in Europe recently quizzed me about our hopes for survival within E.E.C. Remarking that I was somewhat pessimistic about how our Irish businessmen would stand up to those of Europe, he said: "Don't forget the Irish in America". l here they have proved that they can make the grade when they are up against it.
But that was a question of environment forcing the issue. How shall we face the issue inside Ireland and inside Europe? Can we respond with a receptive challenge? Our main difficulties will lie in our lack of planning capacity. Our genius for improvisation is a readily available talent.
Our farmers seem confident for the future. They feel that the industrialists and those who work in towns and factories are spoonfed. Some 35",1. are employed in farming, producing 24% of the national income. 1 his is a very small percentage.
People in farming earn about £340 per person per year. Even when the farmer adds to this the first cost of his foods it is still low. The comparative income figure for the industrial sector is E580. We have to do something about this. The density of rural population is low by European standards, but it is excessive in relation to the gross value of the output per acre.
The rising farmer generation which sees no prospect of inheriting the family farm is anxious to establish a future elsewhere. This will have to be done in ancillary agricultural industries. The Sugar Company, a State organisation. is now well equipped to provide a good deal of employment in the food-processing industry.
The experts say that we are lowcost producers by comparison with our European counterparts. It is technically possible to treble the value of our output per acre provided we are offered the necessary export opportunities. We cannot consume more at home without a greater population. In Ireland no problem of space exists. We have all the power we need and a surplus of manpower.
All these things are at a considerable premium in more industrially highly-developed countries. Mr. Sean F. Lemass, Prime Minister But we are still in the position of having to invite foreign .capital and know-how. To expand we must use at home the labour force which, up to now, has emigrated. Yet the school-leaver is hopeful and the university graduate has increased the chance of making his living at home where he prefers to work anyway.
A little affluence can, like a little knowledge, be a dangerous thing. And certainly a great deal of luxury buying on hire purchase has infected the country.
The Irish are wayward spenders, and thrift, except in the North, is not a virtue. Young people, earning more money, spend it like water. There are plenty of speculators to relieve them of it. Most provincial newspapers carry an enormous advertising volume of dances. And most of it is not for the old style charitable purpose. It goes into the pockets of professional band promoters.
Amusement is the mighty escape for all. Cars are being rivalled by mopeds. Forests of television antennae sway on new housing estates and modern status symbols begin to proliferate. Will the Irish substitute material uplift for the age-old faith?
For most, religion is isolated from making a living. There is much lip service to God and slavery to Mammon.
Now our educational authorities are beginning to face up to the demands for better technological training. It is accepted that some sort of new school system is being conceived, fathered by existing. though inadequate, Technical Education and mothered by some form of "Secondary Modern" style school.
No one in authority will yet admit how it will cater for the deeper things of life, or how, for instance, Christian doctrine and social ethics are to play a part in this new style of opportunity for the family which cannot pay the high fees in clerically-managed boarding and day schools. The Government is concerned that brain-power is not frustrated for want of hard cash.
Longer schooling and a niece serious approach to our new responsibilities inside Europe are bound to check the present spending spree. The exigencies of producing more, exporting more and thus paying for our costly imports will in the long run put an end to our easy-going ways.
Our Government is trying to push forward a crash programme in education, with too few teachers qualified to supply the requirements of expansion. This is going to be the greatest bottle-neck to economic progress.
All sorts of activity is proliferating in the form of adult education. Managing directors are attending seminars. Young men are sitting at night classes all over the country learning Europen languages. Esen Civil Servants of mature years are poring over French Grammars in Georgian Houses in Dublin. German. Italian and French cultural institutes are working full time.
It would be impossible to cover the spectrum of Irish life today in a short article. To do so you would need to be an economist, a philosopher, a farmer, a teenager and an expert on the "twist". But life is beginning to be stimulating, and that is important. The despoil of years is gone and if this psychological lift is not dampened by diffusion it will energise the nation. A lot of ingrained conservatism is going. complacency is on the run.
Ireland today is a land pulsating with a fresh energy. Some say that we are producing in recent times a new style of Irishman. I do not mean this in the Soviet sense. But there is a great change of outlook. We have passed the stage of weeping over the graves of failure, envy and misfortune and we are looking to a new frontier of progress and involvement with Europe.
Yet we still have much to learn, much to forget and a lot to achieve. Our social needs are fixed upon a better standard of living. To quote Dr. Juan Greene again: 'The standard of living will not only continue to be the yardstick by which the average citizen measures his place in the social structure. but the measure of how our society ranks by modern international standards."
This implies that Ireland is looking outward. And one of the dangers of this is that the measurement is made in the material bric-a-brac of modern living. Other values appear to be more and more obscured. To survive Ireland must aim at creating art affluent society. And there precisely is our greatest danger. For in striving to hit that economic target we must try to ensure that we do not forfeit our Christian values.