From top: Claire Byrne Live; Anne-Marie McNally
Have we not learned?
It’s the society, stupid.
Anne-Marie McNally writes:
On Monday evening I took myself out to the glamorous (!) surrounds of the Claire Byrne show with our Dublin Central candidate Gary Gannon. The topic for discussion was budget and the debate took place between economist Dan O’Brien, Minister of State Simon Harris, Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD and UCC Sociologist Dr Niamh Hourigan with each panellist having the chance to open with a one minute statement.
I was struck during Minister Harris’ one minute statement by just how many times he mentioned the economy. We are ‘growing the economy’; we are ‘the fastest growing economy in Europe’; we are ‘building a thriving economy’ – all laudable statements but totally irrelevant without equal focus on society. Who wants to live in an economy? Right now the economy is rebuilding but it is very much at the expense of society.
During the debate Minister Harris spoke about how Ireland has a skills shortage – yes we do Minister and that problem will continue to worsen given that we currently have the second largest class sizes in Europe with a pupil-teacher ratio that would make your eyes water.
When we talk about the importance of the economy in attracting Foreign Direct Investment we shouldn’t forget the importance too of a well-educated and skilled workforce. Catherine Murphy TD recalls Intel sending reps to observe classes in the local primary schools of Leixlip before making the decision to locate there.
In the USA, for example, there is a very specific emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) with extra hours allocated specifically for these subjects whereas here many of our children are sitting in overcrowded classes and sitting through hours of religious education during the week – not an ideal basis for a very competitive future workforce.
And to those who argue that education should be far more rounded and include cultural pursuits to the same level as academic pursuits – yes great, but it’d be nice if parents didn’t have to hand over extortionate ‘voluntary contributions’ and registration fees to help the school heat itself never mind provide musical instruments or science lab equipment.
Then the Minister went onto the issue of health and acknowledged some of the harrowing stories coming from members of the audience’s personal experiences within the chaotic health system. Yet in the pursuit of ‘growing the economy’ and prioritising that economy, successive Governments have stood by and watched as the trolleys grew and the sickness at the heart of our health system turned terminal.
Next week Minister Harris, as the consigliere for Minister Noonan, will go forth and tell us that we should jump for joy because ”wuhoo..look, there’s an extra tenner in your wage packet, and sure throw us a number 1 vote by way of saying thanks.” Basically the same thing that has happened for years – vote, elect, bargain, boom, buy votes, bust, election again. And round and round we go.
We can’t keep talking about having a vibrant economy without matching that level of priority to building a vibrant society. For that to happen significant investment is needed – investment that will rebuild our public services with solidarity and longevity in mind. If we accept that the fiscal space available is €1.5billion then we have got to be looking at investing the vast majority of that into our public services.
The surest way to put real money back into people’s pockets is not with a random measly tax cut that will result in an extra 5 or 10 quid a fortnight, but rather to reduce the cost of living for all citizens.
Investment in a decent childcare model, investment in our education & health systems, a decent transport system, a housing strategy – all of these require spending now but it is spending that will ensure that people in all sections of society are not shovelling out ‘disposable’ income on vital services that are running to standstill.
Anne-Marie McNally is a political and media strategist working with Catherine Murphy TD and will be a candidate for the Social Democrats in the forthcoming General Election. Follow Anne-Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally