From the Jim Connell Festival.
360 turn away from a model that has failed young people is required now
I want to thank the committee for the invite. For nearly 15 years, the Jim Connell festival has been an important date in the calendar of the Irish Labour movement. It is a great pleasure to join you today, and join this panel here.
One of our most prominent progressive economists recently remarked to me that economics was a question of the distribution of resources. We cannot avoid what is happening now- Ireland is becoming a more unfair society. The continued adherence to a neo-liberal model that has failed is leading to a more unequal, more divided Ireland.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of education. It was always the hope of working people that the next generation would have it better than the last. But the great step backwards at the current time is that this expectation is becoming increasingly difficult to validate. The changes introduced in the last budget will make it significantly more difficult for young working class people to enter into postgraduate courses, with new charges, new cut off points for grants. Principals, teachers and parents tell me of the consequences of the rise in the pupil teacher ratio and cuts to special needs assistants-kids falling through the cracks. You can’t help what bed you’re born in, and Irelands rigid class system sets in young.
50% of young people in Greece are unemployed, 51% of young people in Spain are unemployed. In Ireland, the youth unemployment rate is 29.6%, the 8th worst in the Eurozone. In Europe, there are now 24 million unemployed. This is in no way socially sustainable.
Writing in the Irish Times recently, Foreign editor Peter Murtagh wrote of Greek lorry drivers in Armani suits. It was an effort to pin the blame for the problem of Greece on the wages of workers, and the rest of his article urged further slashing of the public sector. My response to Peter Murtagh is this: If austerity was going to work in Greece, would it have done so by now? The same applies to Ireland.
The failure of our current model is now increasingly obvious; with fewer and fewer arguing that austerity is actually working. However, a new argument has being argued to the narrative-that is that austerity alone won’t solve our problems. The argument is:
cuts yes, but yes also to measure to promote growth.
But the problem is that the cuts are taking away the very measures to support growth. The cuts to the capital expenditure programme in budget 2012 led to the loss of 10,000 jobs, according to the Department of Finance.
So for some the message is: no cuts without growth.
But actually, you can have no growth with cuts.
The cuts in our community infrastructure have also had an influence on younger people that has been very negative. Nowhere has this been seen more than in the field of community sector. 10,000 jobs out of a total of 30,000 jobs in the community and voluntary sector have been cut; many projects have been closed down
Children, teenagers and young people are going to bear the brunt of these appalling cuts. That means they will inherit communities where the social infrastructure has been weakened, the ties of social solidarity cut. Community development always looked to improve things for the next generation. The recession and the response to it, is greatly altering the hope that a better future awaits future generations.
Dr Tom Healy of the trade union supported but independent think tank, the Nevin institute, has recently published the first in a series of working papers titled “Why we need an economic plan b.”
I have taken 8 key points from the paper, which I think progressives and the Labour movement can unite around as we fight for a new social model for Ireland.
• Do no further harm, meaning: Continuing cuts in public spending must be stopped.
• Invest in infrastructure: Telecommunications, energy and water infrastructure are key weaknesses for the economy of the Republic.
• Afflict the comfortable: Introducing a wealth tax on the French model, which would raise more than 500 million euro a year.
• Comfort the afflicted, who have borne the brunt of the recession.
• Begin a negotiated, orderly write-off of Anglo-Irish/INBS debt
• Strengthen a process of public and private sector reform, particularly corporate governance and regulation
• Develop a stronger, dynamic and competitive indigenous sector
• Reform our banking sector once and for all.
The capacity to develop this alternative is essential now. Tinkering at the edges of an austerity model that has failed has nothing to offer young people who have been badly let down. A 360 turn is now required, and it is one that only the Labour movement can lead.