The Greengrocer society grows in Ireland

Václav Havel, a Czech playwright, writer and politician

The re-opening of schools has brought the illusion of normality to our country. After all, what’s better and more normal than seeing little ones and older children return to the business of books and school bags – lunches and learning – drop-offs and pick-ups. Families are the hinge of a healthy society – the pivot of a robust economy. And their relationship with school should be an unequivocally positive and sacred one.

By this measure, the “reopening” is an illusion. There is a sense of ‘gratitude’ to government that is part of a growing culture of dependency, which is unhealthy. Children are returning to an experience of school radically different to anything that this, and preceding, generations have known – and with more to come. Children, of course, ‘get on with it’.

But that is not an option for adults or for a functioning democracy. Not least for parents. The longer-term impact of ‘social distancing’ – of school as a “No Go” zone for parents and grandparents and all the rest of what seems to be made up as we go along – is not something that should be passively accepted. Clever – and expensive – slogans are no substitute for facts and truth.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of political stasis where two jaded parties, emphatically rejected by voters six months ago, have ‘done a deal’ – think about it – to stay in power with a small economically naive minority party, in a ‘Programme for Government’ that completely economically detached from where Ireland – and the EU – are  mired.

The children who entered the school gates this week will – all unbeknownst to them, and thank God for that – bear the burden of care of an economy now on life support, and with an uncertain prognosis. It is tough for many of the businesses that have reopened and respect to them. But consider for a moment the ones that are in limbo – the closed shop fronts in the heartland of Ireland and those businesses who, whether they know it or not, are among the billion euro write-downs already provided for by the banks.

The true impact of un- and under employment and of the burden of debt repayment will not be fully apparent until next year. The hope for young adults and schoolgoers is that the scale of the impact will be mitigated by the EU’s €750 billion EU Recovery Fund and its 7-year Budget.

I wouldn’t be too sure. These were late in the day and are highly conditional. Much damage had already been done, as individual countries were impelled to take (back) responsibility for responding to a pandemic for which, as Bloomberg have pointed out, the EU was ‘woefully unprepared’.

An Irish economy that’s ‘flatlining’ has been manoeuvred between the rock of a massive increase in borrowing/debt and the (very) hard place of an equally massive and wholly disproportionate increase in our net payments into the EU. Bear in mind that the EU is now being ruled by the Strong and by the Frugal. Meanwhile, we are being ruled by a coalition that between them were responsible for a boom and a crash and the debacle of the National Children’s Hospital.

What pass for political values are enforced by ‘multi-cultural progressives’ who lack either knowledge of, or respect for, history. They have not acquainted themselves, or have forgotten, Vaclav Havel’s parable of the Greengrocer – where an individual living within a system must live a lie, to hide that which he truly believes and desires, and to do that which he must do to be left in peace and to survive. As is the nature of politics, they may not be around when the strains on our social economy become too great. But the children who have returned to school, will.

For Catholics, the message is: families are what our lives are about. Not politics, not the EU, but family. Where God is excluded from our present politics, God must be made doubly welcome in the heart of our families. The ethos and governance of our schools is of special importance to families – it is where the work of parents in the formation of children in their faith – and in the virtues that bind a healthy society together – are reinforced. It is an ethos that must be protected. Parents cannot look to government to do this for them – this Government is in a different ‘space’.

More than ever before, families need to embed in their children independence from the tyranny of social media. Parents need to reflect quietly and prayerfully on how to strength their resilience, their preparedness, in mitigating the consequence of what is unfolding in our suddenly strange new world. There is the sense that young Catholic mothers in particular, leaving their children back to school or perhaps for the first time considering homeschooling, ‘get it’. No surprise there – after all, it’s all in the Gospels.