'...the problems facing Ireland are too important to be left to the economists…'

Slí Eile25/08/2009

Slí Eile: Speaking at the Michael Collins annual commemoration in Béal na mBláth, County Cork, former President Mary Robinson made a number of very interesting points in regard to where we stand. Two in particular caught my interest:

Ireland needs a vision of where it hopes to go; and
We should drawing on the Swedish model of consensus and tough medicine.

On the vision thing - I completely agree.
On the consensus issue - I am not sure.

Mary Robinson speaking of the Swedish response in the 1990s:

A key factor was that all sides of society, the opposition included, were brought on board so as to have as broad a consensus as possible around the tough measures that needed to be taken...The likelihood is that, in the absence of a vision of our future which enjoys broad support, every interest group will put its own concerns first and fight to protect what it has. That would be a recipe for disaster.
The '1987-88' economic consensus, here, gave us social partnership, and with it the favourable conditions (along with many other factors, of course) that saw jobs double, the population increase and living standards rise very significantly. It worked - up to a point. Poverty also continued in its various forms, and we have seen a growing inequality in access to health services - to take one area. We also built up huge 'economic dependencies' - a bizarre tax profile leaving us vulnerable in many ways, massive dependence on foreign direct investment, a relatively enfeebled indigenous sector and 'growth' - plenty of it with lots of trickle-down. As long as world markets boomed, most of us could boom along and not face the hard and difficult decisions that now arise around sharing a declining national cake, and who should be made redundant first.

The alternative to a consensus is widespread social strife. That is a recipe for disaster, as Mary Robinson correctly said. It is what gave rise, in the 1930s, to the Swedish model of partnership stretching back over decades. However, the nature of any 'consensus' needs to be considered. If the Dublin Consensus is the only variety, on offer it may be that strife is - regrettably - the only way to proceed. I sincerely hope not.

Incidentally, the two principles proposed by Mary Robinson are worth highlighting:

Example from the 'top'; and
Protecting the weakest

But taking this latter point, along with Mary Robinson's comments on education (the need to defend it), I am sure that she would also apply the same reasoning to health. So, there you have the three major components of current spending: social welfare, health and education. If we wish to continue funding these 'big three' (not to mention the banks) then we need to pay for it by way of taxes - local, income, capital, spending etc. No other way.

Posted in: PoliticsPolitics

Tagged with: Mary RobinsonProgressive Consensus



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