General Election 2016 comes at a critical moment for Ireland. Decisions made in the next Dáil will have major impacts on Irish people and shape the future for a considerable time to come.
Whether or not the decisions of the next Government produce a just and sustainable future depends on those elected to the 32nd Dáil. They will decide the priorities to guide policy and shape Budget decisions each year.
They will also decide whether Ireland is a nation committed to solidarity and sustainability or whether it becomes a nation where greed triumphs over need.
Consequently, it is very important that voters focus on where they believe Ireland should be in ten years’ time.
They should then consider four key questions:
1. What services and infrastructure are required to reach that destination?
2. How are these to be delivered?
3. How are these services and infrastructure to be paid for?
4. How can we maintain a vibrant and sustainable economy and society while travelling towards that destination?
The answers to these questions should determine how people vote in this General Election.
Looking at Ireland through a particular lens almost a decade after the crash of 2008, one could come to the conclusion that all is well and that the future looks bright. Economic growth has been dramatic. The very challenging fiscal targets that had to be met have, in fact, been exceeded.
Employment is growing while at the same time unemployment is falling. Exports are growing and this growth has been strongly supported by the weakness of the euro. Interest rates and oil prices are at an historic low.
On the other hand, one could look at Ireland’s current situation through a different lens and come to a very different conclusion.
Poverty and social exclusion persist despite the economic growth and deprivation has risen dramatically.
Ongoing high levels of public and private debt are deeply worrying.
There is a persistently high level of long-term unemployment.
The failure to reverse many of the hits taken by the vulnerable since the crash of 2008 is regrettable.
Growing urban/rural divisions are of major concern.
The high levels of emigration, long-term unemployment and youth unemployment raise serious questions that challenge any benign interpretation of how Ireland has succeeded in addressing the consequences of the economic crash.
Social Justice Ireland, in its General Briefing, has set out its views on how Ireland can ensure the future does not repeat the mistakes of the past. The next Government needs a guiding vision for a just and inclusive society and a policy framework that would deliver a just future for all.
Ireland should be guided by a vision of becoming a just society in which human rights are respected, human dignity is upheld, human development is promoted and the environment is respected and protected. The core values of such a society would be human dignity, equality, human rights, solidarity, sustainability and pursuit of the common good.
Being guided by such a vision and underpinned by these values Ireland would become a nation in which all women, men and children have what they require to live life with dignity and to fulfil their potential: they would have sufficient income; access to the services they need; and active inclusion in a genuinely participatory society. Details of this framework with specific policy proposals across a wide range of areas are available on Social Justice Ireland’s website: www.socialjustice.ie in the special General Election page.