The European Commission has just published the 2017 Country Specific Recommendations for Ireland, accompanied by an assessment of Ireland's National Reform Programme and 2017 Stability Programme. This forms part of the European Semester process. Social Justice Ireland's initial response to the Country Specific Recommendations is available below.
Social Justice Ireland welcomes the focus on broadening the tax base and limiting the scope and number of tax expenditures.
We also welcome the focus on public investment and enhancing social infrastructure. However we are concerned that despite a focus on investment by the Commission both in 2016 and 2017 Government has not given an indication of how it will raise the necessary funds for such investment which will have to be significantly more than is currently planned due to the nature of Ireland’s physical and social infrastructure deficits.
In terms of a package of activation policies Social justice Ireland stresses the need for this to be underpinned by the active inclusion approach of access to quality services, income supports and activation programmes. It is unfortunate that Government has still not published a Strategy for Jobless Households which was due to be published at the end of 2016.
Social Justice Ireland is of the opinion that any windfall gains should be used for investment in social infrastructure for example in the areas of social housing and childcare. These would be one off investments. Given the crisis that Ireland has in social housing, and the fact that childcare has featured among the Country Specific Recommendations for many years there is a strong argument to be made that windfall gains should be invested in one off social infrastructure in these two areas.
It is disappointing that inequality and social exclusion do not feature in the Country Specific Recommendations. Ireland has a persistently high level of poverty and inequality and high levels of child poverty. The social protection system performs extremely well in terms of moving people out of poverty but this fails to address the underlying causes. Without the social welfare system almost half of the Irish population (46.3 per cent) would have been living in poverty in 2015. Such an underlying poverty rate suggests a deeply unequal distribution of direct income. Europe’s Social Priorities must be fully integrated into the European Semester Process and given the same priority as economic policies.