A framework for the next Programme for Government

Posted on Friday, 6 March 2020

While it is as yet unknown which parties will eventually form the Government of the 33rd Dáil, of more concern to Social Justice Ireland is the content of the Programme for Government that will eventually be negotiated. This will contain the policy priorities for the Government over the coming five years, and the content will have major impacts on our standard of living, on the types of public services we have access to, and the type of society in which we live.  How the Programme tackles Ireland's crises in areas like health, housing, and climate will shape the future for a long time to come. We know that business as usual is not an option.

Despite having the fastest growing economy in Europe we are struggling to provide the basic services and infrastructure that form the foundation of a fair society. As noted above, Ireland faces huge challenges in healthcare, and housing, but also in public transport, rural broadband, and childcare provision. Ireland is, in many ways, a very unequal society. Almost 680,000 people in this country are living in poverty, and 1 in 6 of them are children. These problems cannot be fixed without increasing public investment, and if we want more public investment to deliver better services and infrastructure, then we must collect more revenue.

The new Government won’t be able to solve everything in just five years, but by making the right choices they can get a long way down the road to delivering a fairer society with a better standard of living for everyone. This is why the next Programme for Government must deliver on five key areas:

  1. A vibrant economy
  2. Decent services and infrastructure
  3. Just taxation
  4. Good governance
  5. Sustainability

A vibrant and sustainable economy will generate the resources needed to deliver a fair society, providing the funds for increased public spending. This means making choices that are socially, economically and environmentally sustainable, rather than focusing almost solely on economic growth. The next Government should develop a new National Index of Progress including social and environmental indicators (such as the value of caring and unpaid to the economy, the cost of having so many people on health waiting lists and the cost of environmental pollution) as well as economic ones. 

Decent services and infrastructure requires a commitment to public investment if we are to properly address the social inequalities in access to housing, healthcare and income inequality.  The next Government should ensure that there is a minimum floor of services and income that everyone is entitled to.

If a Government is setting social, economic and environmental goals then tax policy needs to support these goals.  A just and fair taxation system is a must if we want more public investment, better services and a vibrant economy.  In order to increase public spending then the overall amount of revenue collected needs to increase gradually.  This must be done in a fair way.  In a just taxation system those who benefit the most from our economy contribute the most, a fair share of corporate profits is paid in tax and those who damage our environment are penalised.  The next Government should publish an annual resourcing statement stating how much revenue is needed to deliver existing levels of service and infrastructure, how much is needed to improve services and where this revenue will come from.

Putting sustainability at the heart of what we do is the only way to ensure we can move to a cleaner, greener economy without leaving anyone behind.  Sustainability is not just about the environment it is about economics and social well-being.  It means bridging the income and services divide between urban and rural Ireland and ensuring rural communities are not left behind. 

Finally people need to trust the Government will deliver a fairer society, and their voice must also be heard.  Real social dialogue involving all stakeholders is vital if we are to meet the challenges presented by climate change, demographic changes and social inequality, and create sustainable solutions that all sectors of society can buy into.

Ireland faces many challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Social Justice Ireland has published a framework for the next Programme for Government, focusing on the five key areas noted above. Below, we set them out in tabular form. Further policy suggestions in each of these areas are published in our annual Socio-Economic Review, availabe here.