A five-point plan for Government – What should be done now? - SPC 2014

Posted on Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Irish State should play a greater role in industrial development, basing its decisions on skilful evidence-based analysis and deeper democratic participation, speakers stated in a round-table discussion at Social Justice Ireland’s 2014 Policy Conference.

The debate followed five presentations that addressed the conference theme; ‘Planning and Delivering a Fairer Future – Values, Democracy and Service Provision, see here.

Participants in the second part of the conference strongly reinforced key points made by earlier speakers, but they also offered fresh perspectives.

Conor Killeen, Chief Executive of the Dublin- and London-based corporate finance and wealth advisory firm, Key Capital, noted that large corporate investors are prepared to invest in human and social capital. He cited a planned €35million social housing fund, backed by Key Capital, which will partner the firm with a major Irish charity. The initiative, which aims to ultimately pass ownership of the asset to the charity after a long-term investment period, could be replicated in other projects.

In a wide-ranging address, Patricia O’Hara, Chairperson, National Statistics Board, and regional policy expert, urged Ireland to revitalise its commitment to regional development, and, on a linked point, to roll-out high-speed broadband immediately. “It would have a huge transformative effect in terms of our competitiveness,” she said.

O’Hara also argued the case for “using data to drive policy”, echoing a key theme of the conference. She noted Ireland’s poor record in this area and a skills deficit in most governmental departments that she described as “critical”. “This is very much a problem of personnel,” she warned.

Fellow panellist David Begg, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said the State needed to be much more active in terms of industrial policy. “That has been one of the great failures of the State,” he said. “It needs to be actively leading development in some areas.” Like speaker and conference host Seán Healy, Begg cited Mariana Mazzucato’s study, “The Entrepreneurial State” (2014), which argues that such giant corporations as Apple and Intel had developed from research funding provided from a “courageous, risk-taking State”. “We need a developmental State in Ireland. In the 1990s we had substantial development, and we need to recap and re-establish this,” Begg said.

Fred Powell, Professor of Social Policy, University College Cork, structured his points under the heading ‘The Republic of Subjects – How do we deepen Democracy?  “We have a problem,” he said.  “How are we going to build our society? What kind of values will inform it?”  He strongly revisited points made earlier by Healy, who had set out the case for the development of a deliberative, democratic decision-making process in his paper, and Colin Scott, Principal, College of Human Sciences and Professor of EU Regulation & Governance, UCD, who had noted that the shift in the delivery of services from the Welfare State to independent agencies had given a wider range of actors a space and opportunity to participate within a “monitory democracy”, Powell highlighted the need to “democratize democracy” to ensure that it helps to shape policy and value social justice as a “democratic imperative”.

“To broaden political debate through reflexive government we need to create democratic participatory spaces through social juries, citizens’ audits, etc,” he told his audience. Or, as Begg concluded his presentation:  “We need to have discourse about these problems. This is why the conference is so welcome.”

Round table participants at the Social Justice Ireland Conference, 2014

  • Conor Killeen, Chief Executive, Key Capital
  • Patricia O’Hara, Chairperson, National Statistics Board and regional policy expert
  • Fred Powell, Professor of Social Policy, University College Cork
  • David Begg, General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions