Social Justice Ireland & ‘An Agenda for a New Ireland’

image Earlier this week, the NGO Social Justice Ireland (SJI) published ‘An Agenda for a New Ireland,’ a 250-page socio-economic review of what went wrong in Ireland, what hasn’t changed, and what state and citizens might do to improve living on this island. The entire text of the document is available on-line.

The Irish Times’ Jamie Smyth summed up SJI’s recommendations this way,

THE PUBLIC needs to pay more tax and reject the culture of “ravenous greed” and individualism which has been promoted for more than a decade by successive governments.

Smyth noted that SJI claims the Irish Government made the crisis worse,

by persevering with failed policies and making the plan to bail out the banks its top economic priority.

This was a point that was also made by Fintan O’Toole on Tuesday in an Irish Times column titled, ‘Bailout has turned us from citizens into serfs.’ O’Toole wrote,

A QUESTION haunts me because I can think of no good answer: why should anyone who has a choice continue to live in Ireland? This is not an abstract thought experiment. I have two sons in their early 20s. I am trying to find one compelling reason for them to stay here.

Like SJI, O’Toole laments the consequences of the bank bailouts,

Every year until at least 2021, we will be putting €500 million more into Anglo and Nationwide than into the Department of the Environment’s capital budget. (At least John Gormley will be able to say that the Government is spending unprecedented sums on sewage systems.)

The social and economic costs of this are devastating, especially when you think of what else we could do with the money. For the annual €2 billion we’re putting into Anglo and Nationwide, we could almost double what the State spends on mental health services and disability services.

We could almost quadruple spending on children and families. For just two years of the SFT, we could build a national high-speed broadband network, putting people to work in the process and greatly improving our economic competitiveness.

Is there anything in the Agenda for a New Ireland that could provide O’Toole with just one compelling reason?

SJI urges a focus on four core values that should underpin a guiding vision for Ireland in the years ahead:

  • human dignity
  • sustainability
  • equality/human rights
  • the common good

It is easy to pay lip service to these four core values – after all, they are words that slip effortlessly from the mouths of our politicians and did so even during the boom times. I’m most intrigued by the idea of a ‘common good,’ and wonder whether that is ever substantially considered by Ireland’s current batch of policy makers.

There was a time in Ireland where Christian discourses might have been expected to figure prominently in the debate on a common good. In raising these issues in its report, SJI is continuing that tradition. The NGO, formerly known as the Council of Religious in Ireland (CORI), has in the past been associated with Catholic social teaching.

Indeed, SJI acknowledges this Christian influence in the Agenda (p 231),

Social Justice Ireland’s concerns in this area are deeply rooted in Christian values. Christianity subscribes to the values of both human dignity and the centrality of the community.

… Since everyone has a right to a proportion of the goods of the country, society is faced with two responsibilities regarding economic resources: firstly each person should have sufficient to access the good life; and secondly, since the earth’s resources are finite, and since “more” is not necessarily “better”, it is time that society faced the question of putting a limit on the wealth that any person or corporation can accumulate. Espousing the value of environmental sustainability requires a commitment to establish systems that ensure the protection of our planet.

Some radical suggestions here, and in the rest of the document – especially the idea of placing a cap on individual wealth.

While SJI uses Christianity as a basis for appealing to a common good, O’Toole urges Irish people to ask whether they are in fact betraying democratic values by allowing the Government to handle the crisis in the way that it has.

Christianity. Democracy. Can the Irish find within either of them the resources to build a better society and body politic?

One Response to Social Justice Ireland & ‘An Agenda for a New Ireland’

  1. Joc Sanders April 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    ‘Putting a limit on wealth accumulation’ – that is a truly radical position to urge in this society. But is there any alternative in a resource constrained future? We need to recapture the old virtues of living simply, so that others can simply live. But we must expect to encounter opposition from wealth and privilege.

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