An Ireland worth working for

“The economic experience of the Republic is frequently offered as a case study and example for Northern Ireland to follow. This is not the case,” explains Tom Healy, Director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI).

Brexit, trade wars, political extremism, fractured nation states and the unrelenting and undeniable evidence of climate change set the scene for ‘An Ireland Worth Working For’, Healy’s new book published in April. It builds on a historical document: the Democratic Programme endorsed by the first meeting of the first Dáil a century ago.

It looks to the future and argues for a very different economic and social model to the one we know today. It goes beyond vague aspirations to set out specific goals, policy ideas and targets spread out over the next two decades.

“We do not know the future constitutional shape of Ireland or the United Kingdom as it is currently constituted. Identities, memories and anxieties do matter. However, no Ireland is worth working for without putting in place the economic, social and political conditions for peace, prosperity and progress,” he says.

“The economic experience of the Republic is frequently offered as a case study and example for Northern Ireland to follow. This is not the case. The success of the southern model has been highly dependent on specific and transitory factors not all of which will apply in the future.

“The game on corporate tax avoidance is drawing to a close. The systemic weakness of locally controlled and owned business is a feature of both economies on the island of Ireland. We need to up the game. However, that requires a coordinating and stronger role from public institutions, north and south.”

The opening statement of the book is “At the time of publication, the matter of Brexit and the details of the United Kingdom’s transition to a new relationship with the European Union was unresolved. Nevertheless, throughout this book, the author has assumed that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union one way or another”. This is a risky and questionable assumption on the part of the author and should not be taken as a firm prediction or forecast knowing the record of economists in relation to the future.

Regardless of the outcome of Brexit we still must face the triple challenge of:

  • changing demographics including an ageing population;
  • the non-viability of a carbon-intensive economy; and
  • the transforming effect of new technologies in the workplace and home.

“Three big ideas are needed to move forward, including a democracy that reaches into every area of social and economic life (and not just once every few years in parliament); equality that impacts on life chances and not just distribution of income; and sustainability that accords as much political urgency to the needs of the coming generations as it does to this one.”

The latter point is about an inter-generational covenant implying innovation, sacrifice and transition. The book sketches out a ‘new democratic programme’ that focusses on three big goals:

  1. decency of working conditions and rights in the workplace;
  2. public goods and services including learning, health and housing; and
  3. new enterprise models and supports that take us well beyond tax breaks to hard infrastructure to enable civic entrepreneurship to flourish.

Readers might form an early impression of Euroscepticism in the chapter on the European Union. No such impression can be left following a scathing and unrelenting criticism of current EU policies because the author argues that only bodies such as the EU can tackle the challenge of joined up international action as well as international corporate tax avoidance. Three cheers for the European Commission in tackling the double Irish.

Tom Healy, Director, NERI.

An important contribution to necessary debate on our shared island.

President Michael D Higgins

A united Ireland in our time? The author is agnostic on this, not because he does not care about the outcome but because “the (i) reunification is almost inevitable if Brexit happens (and that is an assumption) and (ii) a long, long time is needed not only to heal traumatised persons and communities but to lay the cultural foundations for a shared island that respects cultural, linguistic and social diversity.

“We are a long, long way off from achieving this. That said, Brexiteers are working extra hard for a united Ireland. It might be tempting but entirely inappropriate to quote Napolean Bonaparte about not interrupting your adversaries when they are making a mistake.

“Let’s hope that our children and our children’s children will live to see a new Ireland based on respect and dignity of each and every person and where the economy serves human rights and social good.”

Tom Healy
Director, NERI
Author of ‘An Ireland Worth Working For: Towards a New Democratic Programme’ published by New Island Books in April 2019.

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