Since TASC was founded in 2001, we have strived for a more equal and fairer Ireland and European Union. The pandemic and recession have provided us with an opportunity to change direction, or to bring about positive change in Irish society. TASC will work toward this change by outlining policy recommendations for longstanding and recent problems that now require urgent action. These range from childcare and care for the elderly to low pay to housing supply.
In fact, the mandate for an equal and fair Ireland dates to the Constitution. Article 45 lists ‘Directive Principles of Social Policy’. The first is that ‘The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the whole people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice and charity shall inform all the institutions of the national life.’ The second confirms that policy should aim to ensure that ‘citizens (all of whom, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood) may through their occupations find the means of making reasonable provision for their domestic needs,’ and that ‘the ownership and control of the material resources of the community may be so distributed amongst private individuals and the various classes as best to subserve the common good.’
In its relatively brief history as an independent nation, Ireland has transformed from an agriculturally-based economy dependent on the UK to one of the most open small economies in the world. At the same time, however, successive governments have not been able to overcome persistently high market inequality rates, reform a two-tier health system, or raise the comparatively low productivity of indigenous small- and medium-sized enterprises, which employ the majority of the workforce. Ireland has also fallen behind on carbon emissions reductions and lags in areas critical for the future, for example, in investment in R&D, higher education, and lifelong learning more generally.
The Need for Change
Ireland will emerge from the pandemic, like other countries, in debt and in a recession, if not a depression. Brexit will be around the corner. Yet, if we follow the example set by our Constitution, the priority of the next government should be protecting livelihoods and domestic needs and, critically, elevating the public good. President Higgins has commented that the pandemic reinforces the need to pursue new ideas. He notes that the scale of intervention has proven that the State has the capacity to act but that the pandemic has shown how too little action has left many in an untenable financial position:
The coronavirus has magnified the scale of our existing social crises and has proved, if ever proof were required, how government can act decisively when the will is there. It has shown us how so many are only ever one wage payment away from impoverishment, how those in self-employment or workers in the ‘gig’ economy lack security and basic employment rights, how private tenants in unregulated housing markets are at the mercy of their landlords, how many designated ‘key workers’ are appallingly undervalued and underpaid. Averting our gaze to these grim truths is no longer an option.
- President Higgins on 22 April, 2020
The President's call for a paradigm shift has resonance elsewhere, as commentators wonder what should be done to prepare for the next crisis, perhaps caused by climate change, and how the inequalities and government inadequacies revealed by pandemic can be addressed.
In the US, presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden has received criticism for focusing too much on the comfort of a different era. President Macron has likewise met with persistent resistance for attempted reforms to pensions and the labor regulations while appearing far too close to wealthy donors and business elites. Leaders of Western democracies like Italy and Spain, where there have been repeated changes of government, have enjoyed greater support during the crisis, but this popularity could prove only temporary.
The next government in Ireland must face any pressures to reduce its debt and likewise, manipulate taxes, wages, and other mechanisms to restart the economy. Regardless, President Higgins’ call should still be heeded. Throughout 2020, TASC will explore new policy ideas and ask how they can be implemented in Ireland and to what effect. The purpose of this effort is to contribute to public debate and demonstrate that policy alternatives not only exist but may be far better in the current context and for the long-term future.
How TASC is looking towards the future
We will publish policy briefs, bring together stakeholders to discuss policy options, and invite speakers in order to highlight five areas of concern:
- Decreasing inequality and the cost of living
- Ensuring a just transition
- Overcoming social marginalization
- Providing greater access to high quality public health services, including mental health
- Building sufficient and sustainable housing
One overarching theme will be addressing the needs of each generation, as the negative impact of the crisis is being felt across age groups. This means thinking about the cost and regulation of home care and child care; job opportunities for Millennials, who have experienced two recessions in a decade, and for workers recently laid off in sectors like hospitality or from Bord na Móna; and mental health support for isolated seniors and single parents. Another will be how the State, private sector, and charities can work together to address these problems.
If the current crisis has shown us anything, it is that returning to the assumptions and ideas of the past will not prepare us for the crises of the future.
Dr. Shana Cohen is the Director of TASC.
She studied at Princeton University and at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received a PhD in Sociology. Her PhD analyzed the political and social consequences of market reform policies in Morocco for young, educated men and women. Since then, she has continued to conduct research on how economic policies have influenced political and social identity, particularly in relation to collective action and social activism.
She has taught at George Washington University, the University of Sheffield, and most recently, University of Cambridge, where she is still an Affiliated Lecturer and Associate Researcher. Her areas of teaching have included global social policy, globalization, and human services.
Before coming to TASC, she was Deputy Director of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge. In her role at the Institute, she became engaged with interfaith and intercultural relations in Europe, India, and the Middle East.
Beyond academic research, Shana has extensive experience working with NGOs and community-based organizations in a number of countries, including Morocco, the US, the UK, and India. This work has involved project design, management, and evaluation as well as advocacy. She has consulted for the World Bank, the Grameen Bank Foundation, and other private foundations and trusts.