Why We Need Change

October 15, 2015

Do you think politics in Ireland is stale, out of touch, and doesn’t serve you, Dublin or Ireland well enough? Do you suspect the government’s just tried to buy your vote? Do you believe we’re capable of, and deserve more as a young Republic? Then lend me five minutes of your precious time – because I agree, and I might have the beginning of a solution.

Starting a new political party in Ireland isn’t something you do lightly. The existing cartel has stacked the odds in their favour like you wouldn’t believe. But just a few months ago, that’s exactly what myself, and TDs Catherine Murphy and Roisín Shortall did.

Social Democrats Launch

Why? Because Ireland needs a new political approach –combining economic strength with a fair, inclusive and vibrant society. People are demanding change, and know that real change will only happen if they get involved in making it happen. The energy of the Yes campaign is just the latest example of this. We’re seeing it too in the Social Democrats – thousands of people are signing up. We’re launching candidates on a regular basis. Student groups are setting up in colleges and universities.

We founded the party on the principles of progress, equality, democracy and sustainability. We believe Ireland’s economy, public services and communities would be well served by following these values when it comes to making local and national political decisions.

So where to start? Lots can be done in the short term. Like resolving the mortgage crisis, supporting Irish businesses and providing high quality and affordable childcare. And we need to start working on the longer term. We need to start asking big, ambitious questions. How do we get a top five education system in 10 years? How do we replicate foreign direct investment success for Irish businesses? How do we create a modern, community-based healthcare system? How do we ensure everyone has sufficient income in retirement? How do we ensure no child goes hungry?

None of this is wishful thinking – it comes as the result of ambition for ourselves, for our communities, for our country. Look at the difference between the government’s budget, and the alternative proposed by the Social Democrats.

The government’s budget was aimed at buying your vote. Put some money back in people’s pockets, and they will reward us, goes the thinking. But here’s what they’re not telling you. The total increase in healthcare spending was just €18m – that’s one tenth of one percent of the health budget. Our schools have been depleted of teachers and cash, while our colleges and universities have been asset stripped. The budget allocates just €24m in additional investment in education – one third of one percent of education spending. And the capital budget – to build roads, houses, schools, hospitals? It’s being reduced by over €50m. The reason is because of those tax cuts.

The Social Democrats took a different approach. We focused on targeted tax cuts, reducing the costs of living, and investing. Our proposal reduced USC, abolished the water charge, lowered property tax for mortgage and provided the self-employed with a decent tax credit. We covered these costs by measures including excise, reducing higher-end pension tax relief and a levy on bonds. That means we kept the full €1.5bn available in the budget for investment.
The result? Increased capital investment of €550m – on areas like housing, primary care centres, community centres and innovation hubs. Nearly ten times more new investment in healthcare, to hire 900 primary care workers, fund mental health services and reduce prescription charges. More than eight times more new investment in education – to hire 3,000 teachers, reinstate guidance counsellors, boost cash to schools, increase third level funding by 10% and double funding for adult literacy. Add to this new funding to help local businesses, the arts and a range of supports for vulnerable groups, including single parents, pensioners, those using community and family resource centres, women’s refuges, homelessness, the disabled, carers, and more. Our budget contains serious measures for tackling child poverty, and for breaking the cycle of intergenerational family poverty. The government budget did contain meaningful investment in childcare – but by following a different path, we were able to propose investing at three times the government level. The difference? Our approach would cap childcare fees, while leaving childcare providers with more money, linked to quality improvements.

The Social Democrats’ approach would better stimulate job creation than the approach taken by government. Giving people earning €150,000 an extra €1,800 doesn’t create jobs, it creates profits for BMW’s shareholders. What helps create jobs is serious investment in education, increased capital investment and proper support for local businesses.

We worked within the same fiscal space as the government, and our budget was publicly acknowledge by several economists as being well costed. What this is, is the description of a different political approach– one that believes enterprise, services and communities work together, and make each other stronger. This is what a budget can look like when you’re planning, not for the next election, but for the next generation.

I want to be completely honest – our budget would reduce your tax bill, but not by as much as the government’s budget. And in exchange for that, you, your family, your community, and Dublin City would see the benefits listed above, and more. We’re looking for people from every county, from every constituency, from every walk of life. If ‘more of the same’ isn’t enough for you, then join us.

This article originally appeared in the Dublin Informer on October 15th, 2015