AS John F Kennedy once reminded us in a speech, the Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis'. One brush stands for danger, the other for opportunity. "In a crisis be aware of the danger – but recognise the opportunity." That must be Ireland's philosophy over the coming months. As a country we have certainly focused – perhaps too much – on the danger, but we haven't concentrated nearly enough on the potential opportunities. Two weeks ago, the Sunday Tribune listed the people who had played a role in getting the country into its current mess. But we are where we are. The focus now must be on getting out of the hole we are in. Here we identify the 20 people who can play a leading role in getting the Irish nation back on its collective feet.
Brian Cowen: SERVICE
He is almost certain to lose the next general election, but history, rather than the electorate, may yet be kinder to the Taoiseach. To be fair, he hasn't shirked the tough decisions to date, but he needs to do a lot more in terms of clearly displaying leadership, to help build confidence. If Cowen does that, and continues to take the hard decisions, he will have done the state no little service.
Brian Lenihan: DECISIONS
The minister for finance is best placed to save the Irish economy and the country. His decisions in the coming weeks ahead of the emergency budget on 7 April – and beyond that – will not only define his political legacy, but also dictate the speed of Ireland's recovery from the economic abyss.
Enda Kenny: RESPONSIBILITIES
If recent opinion polls are anything to go by, Enda Kenny would almost certainly become taoiseach if there was a general election tomorrow. He has rebuilt Fine Gael and brought it back from the brink since its election disaster in 2002. In the current political and economic turmoil an early election is always possible. If Kenny does get his chance as taoiseach he will assume the most important role in guiding the country into safe waters. If he remains in opposition his responsibilities are also important as Fine Gael, together with all parties in the Dáil, are going to have to ditch party politics and work together to find solutions.
Eamon Gilmore: SOLUTIONS
To paraphrase Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, this country needs to "get busy living, or get busy dying". There are times when party politics are crucial for the health of a democracy and there are also times when they need to be put aside. Perhaps these unprecedented economic times call for unprecedented political measures. A national government may not be a realistic concept but Eamon Gilmore, as the most popular political leader in the country, needs to work with all other party leaders in hatching solutions. There is a distinct likelihood that Gilmore will be the tánaiste before the country emerges from the crisis, so his role in saving the country cannot be underestimated.
John Gormley: METTLE
The Greens have been impressive in how they have adapted to being in government and, in the national interest, they need to continue to show that mettle in the tough weeks and months ahead. As environment minister, Gormley's proposed planning legislation will be crucial in terms of developing a more sustainable and viable Ireland when we finally come out the recession.
Colm McCarthy: CUTS
Chairman of An Bord Snip Nua, the no-nonsense McCarthy has the task of going through the public sector and trying to root out excess spending. Given that spending increased by double-digit percentage amounts virtually every year of the last 10 or more, there should be plenty of fat there to trim. Of course, this should have happened during the boom years but, better late than never.
Giovanni Trapattoni: LIFT
The last time we imported a soccer manager without prior experience of the Irish set-up, Jack Charlton led the nation on an historic journey to the European Championships in 1988 and the World Cups of 1990 and 1994. Who will ever forget Ray Houghton putting the ball in the English net in Stuttgart in 1988, or the Italian net in the Giants Stadium in 1994, or that penalty shoot-out against Romania in 1990? Sport lifted the nation in those pre-Celtic Tiger days. Let's all hope Giovanni Trapattoni can lead us to the World Cup in South Africa next year and let sport elate the nation once more.
Declan Kidney: MOTIVATE
One has to go back to the previous big recession of the 1980s for the last time that the Irish rugby team won the championship, so it would be a big morale lift if the current team could win the Six Nations, particularly if they can become the first team since 1948 to win the Grand Slam. It's already been remarked that Brian O'Driscoll's heroics against England were the perfect example for our troubled country (triumph over adversity and all that) and in Declan Kidney, the master psychologist, Ireland has the perfect coach to finally bring us to the holy grail.
Richie Boucher: IMPACT
Bank of Ireland's decision to select from within its own ranks for its new chief executive drew quite a bit of criticism, some of it justified. But for better or worse, Boucher is in the job and he has a huge task on his hands. Obviously, he will play a key role in trying to restore the fortunes of the troubled bank, but that will also have a huge knock-on impact for the country. Ireland Inc needs a properly functioning bank system providing credit to businesses. It's in all our interests that Boucher succeeds.
Eugene Sheehy: RESCUE
AIB, the country's largest bank, announced last week that it had recorded its first loss in Ireland since the group was set up in 1966. Despite recording an operating loss of €1.3bn, which is in no small way related to the bank's reckless lending practices of recent years, Eugene Sheehy announced that he will not be stepping down as chief executive. As he plans to stay in the job, he has assumed the massive responsibility of rebuilding AIB which is a key component of any plan to rescue the country from ruin.
David Begg: LEADERSHIP
The trade-union movement, particularly its public-sector wing, had it good during the boom years – with partnership offering it huge access and influence – but it will also have a crucial role to play in helping us come out of the recession. With the government being forced to make such tough decisions, the union leadership must lead, rather than follow – starting with telling the teachers' unions that industrial action at the moment would be madness.
Turlough O'Sullivan: RECOVERY
Turlough O'Sullivan, or his successor at the Irish Business and Employers' Confederation (Ibec) carry a huge responsibility on their shoulders in terms of securing Ireland's economic recovery. Throughout the boom, O'Sullivan was well able to secure lower taxes on industry and lighter workplace regulation in successive partnership agreements. At the same time, top industry bosses awarded themselves huge salaries during the boom. It is now up to them to take the lead in shouldering the pain during leaner times.
Peter Clinch: SMART
The Taoiseach's special adviser and economist is a key man behind the government's plan to 'build Ireland's smart economy'. The criticisms of the strategy miss the point. It won't solve our immediate crisis but, in the medium term, this emphasis on the smart economy and encouraging innovation is vital. And, in years to come, the plan could be regarded in the same way as Charlie Haughey's drive to develop the IFSC during the bleak years of the 1980s.
MARY O'DEA: TONE
THE government is going to appoint a new financial regulator, most probably from abroad, but O'Dea ? who stepped into the breach in an acting capacity, after the departure of Patrick Neary – has set the tone for what we should come to expect from the new souped office of the regulator. The regulatory environment will be strengthened, but a lot will also depend on the drive and proactive philosophy that the new regulator brings to the job. In that regard, O'Dea has set a good example.
Barack Obama: STIMULUS
Oh the irony. The one man on whom we are most dependent for Ireland's recovery isn't even Irish (descendents in Moneygall notwithstanding). The old saying goes that when "America sneezes, Ireland catches a cold" and, as a tiny, open economy, we need a recovered, healthy US before we can emerge from this economic trough. We all need to hope and pray that Obama's huge fiscal stimulus is successful in
re-igniting the US, and by extension the global, economy.
We have just mentioned how we need a strong America. But we also need help from the EU, so José Manuel Barroso and the European Commission's handling of the crisis is crucial to Ireland's survival. Last Wednesday, in a speech to the European Parliament, the commission president said that Europe has today found its strength in cohesion, in coordination, and in solidarity. "We must all work closely together… as the task of recovery unfolds," he said. Europe's recovery will be Ireland's recovery.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness: UNITED
The united stance of unionist and republican politicians in condemning
the killings of two British soldiers and a PSNI officer in the North in recent days was a momentous image in the history of the peace process. The North's First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, now have a vital role in ensuring that they can guide the North away from the recent violence, that was a flashback to the past, and keep the precious peace process on track.
In 2006 U2 decided to move part of its business out of Ireland to the Netherlands after the government decided to put a cap on the amount of tax-free earnings available to artists. Bono and U2 are a global brand and there is no denying that they have done immeasurable good in promoting Ireland abroad. Perhaps if they moved their business back home and paid more tax into the country's coffers, they might send out a message to other business people to follow suit?
Brendan Drumm: CHALLENGE
Sorting out the health service during the boom proved an unenviable task for the minister for health, Mary Harney, and the chief executive of the HSE Brendan Drumm. Now that we are living in leaner economic times, those problems have been exacerbated with the HSE's €480m shortfall this year. Drumm has a major challenge on his hands to ensure that the most vulnerable people in Irish society do not suffer with cuts to frontline services and the top-heavy administrative side of the HSE takes the hit instead.
Seán and Mary Citizen: PRO-ACTIVE
If Ireland is going to recover, every person in the country is going to have
to do his or her bit. To date, we've heard lots of talk about people being willing to put their shoulder to the wheel and take the pain, but practical examples of this have been non-existent. The attitude to date appears to be: 'take the tough decisions just as long as it doesn't
impact on me'. We can kick and moan about the crisis we are in, and protest every step of the way, or we can take it on the chin and move on. To use another quote from JFK, our mantra must be
'ask not what your country can do for
you, ask what you can do for your country'.