Amidst all the hoopla of Patrick’s Day the most insightful and powerful synposis regarding Ireland’s present predicament came from former US President Bill Clinton, in his speech at a lunch in New York last week.
With the unique perspective of an elder statesman and a person who has devoted much time to this country, Clinton’s comments are particularly salutary as we come to grips with the economic mess of the post Celtic Tiger years, and our attempts to rehabilitate our identity and standing in the wider world.
In rhetoric all too rare from people in authority, Mr Clinton expressed outright concern about this country’s high suicide rate, whilst urging a return to core values in the journey to economic recovery. He noted that profound damage had also been done to the Irish psyche.
“The thing that has troubled me most, believe it or not, about this whole economic crisis in Ireland has been the rise in the suicide rate, not just among the young, where it was already too high, but among those in their prime working years who feel somehow that their whole lives have been robbed,” he said.
Mr Clinton said Ireland’s economic difficulties were not the end of the world, adding that the Republic was beginning another chapter in its history. “It should never be assumed again that any given level of prosperity was permanent, that any economic arrangement could not be improved, and that any clever thing done might not be tinged with a little arrogance carrying the seeds of its destruction.
Mr Clinton said he was convinced if everybody had “30 lucid minutes” before passing away, almost nobody would use them to think “how cool it was when we got rich. We would think about who we liked and who we loved and how the flowers smelt in the springtime . . . when we made the passage from youth to adulthood . . . and what it was like when our children were born or when we gave our daughters away at the altar.”
Mr Clinton said the thing people loved about Ireland had almost nothing to do about whether it was financially successful or not. “It was what it was at the core. Ireland will be great and prosperous and wonderful again, simply by recovering what it is at the core. So it is for us not only to give advice, investment and support, but to scrape away the barnacles which have clouded the vision of the place we love.”
Clinton’s message is powerful and timely, and marks a meaningful contribution as this country tries to rebuild some sense of itself. Largely positive, it mixes the call for a return to core values with a heartfelt concern about suicide levels in the country, an issue which we are often too reticient about. In an era of new beginnings, it is perhaps a signpost along the road to a more wholesome and fulfilling future.