Ireland is at a pivotal moment and could build a fair, just society

Posted on Tuesday, 11 October 2016

One hundred years after the 1916 Rising Ireland faces major choices that will shape its future for the decades ahead.  The dominant economic approaches and policies which have been favoured in recent decades in Ireland, the EU and beyond have failed to recognise the interdependent relationships between a vibrant economy, social cohesion, good governance and sustainability that must characterise any society if it is to thrive in the long run. Yet recognition of this interdependency is critically important if we are to fulfil our obligations to future generations of Irish people and to the planet on which we depend for our existence.  

Budget 2016 should recognise that each of these aspects of our society is dependent on the others. Budget decisions should be based on this understanding.  Ireland’s level of public investment is among the lowest in the EU as a proportion of our economy.  Dramatically higher levels of investment are required if our economy is to thrive, if our infrastructure and services are to improve and if we are to see more, better paid jobs.  This is not a time for tax cuts. Rather, it is a time for investment in critically important areas if Ireland is to break out of its current economic, social and environmental problems.  This is the time for decisive action on these issues.

President Michael D. Higgins summarised the consequences of inaction in these areas recently as follows: “Should we fail to change our policies, our institutions and, more importantly perhaps, our theory of growth, should we fail to tackle decisively current patterns of deregulation, of rocketing inequality, of cannibalisation of the real economy by financialisation, then our citizens will continue to pick up the tab, not just “in money value”, but “in the hard currency of their daily existences.

It is essential that Ireland today faces up to one of the most basic questions: What kind of society, served by what kind of economy, do we want in Ireland, in Europe and across the rest of the planet where the vast majority of the world’s poorest people live?

Social Justice Ireland believes that Government should put the common good at the heart of all its decisions about services, taxation and infrastructure, about governance, sustainability and the economy.  Such an approach would mean that Government would look closely at the current situation, as set out throughout this Policy Briefing, and recognise that despite recent improvements in the economy and on employment, Ireland has some major gaps that need to be addressed immediately if everyone is to have the income and services required to live life with dignity.

Tax cuts will not solve Ireland’s infrastructure problems, will not improve social services and will not deliver a fairer society.  Tax cuts will not deliver better healthcare services, quality childcare and after school care. Tax cuts will not deliver social housing, appropriate services for people with disabilities, a rural recovery or a move towards a more sustainable and low carbon Ireland. 

This is not the time for tax cuts, particularly for those who are better off; spurious arguments that such cuts should be introduced to attract Brexit refugees from the UK should be rejected out of hand. 

Ireland today needs investment in housing, in childcare, healthcare, eldercare, care of the vulnerable, in broadband, in rural and regional development, in education, in disability services, in sustainability and in public transport.  These should be the priorities in Budget 2017 and in the years ahead. 

Failure to invest in these areas now will have enormous long-term social, environmental and economic costs.

Broken societies are bad for business. Without the integrated approach advocated here Ireland will not become the fair, just and sustainable society Irish people seek but will, instead, continue to be a country being shamed by its poverty, unemployment, waiting lists (for housing or healthcare) and poor infrastructure. 

Looking forward, Ibelieve that Ireland is at another pivotal moment in which choices must be made: choices that will decide whether or not we become a just and fair society. 

Ireland has been at this point before.  We must not miss again this opportunity to build a society where everyone has what is required to live life with dignity and to fulfil their potential while also meeting our obligations to the planet and to future generations.

Op-Ed in Irish Examiner by Dr Seán Healy, S.M.A., Director, Social Justice Ireland on 10 October, 2016. The article may be accessed on the Irish Examiner's website here.