Organisations need to take stock at regular intervals, adapt to changing circumstances and reform what is not functioning fully or satisfactorily. So it is also with states. We are a relatively small country, which makes the task of reforming and adapting to change that much easier but nonetheless represents a real challenge to our political leadership as well as to the Irish people themselves. As Heraclitus said: The only constant in life is change.
2016, with the anniversary of the Rising and a general election to the 32nd Dáil, seems to be an ideal time to take a hard look at our institutions including, and perhaps especially, our politics which, for better or worse, has so much influence over our lives now and into the future. How do we do things and how do we prepare for a future which we can safely say will be challenging. We have come a long way in a hundred years and not only have we survived very tough times including the most recent economic crisis but have built a resilient and strong democracy and a viable and relatively well-off country with a young dynamic and creative population of whom we can be proud. As a respected member of the European Union, we have thrived and matured as a nation and have almost laid to rest the ghosts of the past. Our relations with our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, have never been better and recent dignified and emotional visits of the royal family to our shores and the visits of our heads of state to Britain have borne eloquent testimony to this.
There are, though, for this small island, North and South, challenges ahead. It is true that our economy is improving by the day with, as a consequence, a steady decline in unemployment and growth projections that must be the envy of our European partners.
However, in the European Union, economies in several of the member states are not coming out of the recession so easily and so speedily with high levels of unemployment and large public debts resulting in services and imports being reduced. This, together with a mass movement of peoples from outside Europe fleeing war, famine and poverty, has led in turn to political unrest and the growth of extremist parties, creating an environment of instability and uncertainty. In our own country, we have seen unprecedented street protests and a worryingly steady growth of cynicism and even scorn with regard to our politicians and politics. And it is fair to say that in spite of the promise of new politics, little has changed in our political system or in our parliament since the foundation of the state. And yet so much has changed in our country in the past few decades much of it, it has to be said, for the better.
This, the 35th MacGill School will look beyond 2016 to the future and to the need to put an end to short-termism and the dominance of the electoral cycle over our planning and governance. We have only to look at vital public services, the health service, education, housing, energy, water, broadband to realise that with a growing population we need to strengthen and reform our governance if we are to meet the challenges ahead in a very uncertain world. In the immediate, we have to address the threat posed by the possible exit of the UK from the European Union as well as other dangers that lurk not far below the surface and represent forces that could radically change our lives such as the Middle East, international terrorism and the threat to all of humanity on the planet posed by climate change which can no longer be dismissed as scientific fantasy.
H.E. Mr Kevin O’Malley, US Ambassador to Ireland
to be delivered by MICHAEL McDOWELL SC,
former Tánaiste, former Attorney-General,former Minister for Justice
with Caoimhín MacAoidh, Peter Campbell and Martin McGinley on fiddle and
Paul Harrigan on uileann pipes
Yeats’s poetry read by Niall Ó hAnnagáin
(Courtesy of the Representation of the EU Commission in Ireland)
11.00 am ELECTION 2016 – WILL WE HAVE NEW POLITICS OR UNSTABLE GOVERNANCE?
The results of the general election in the UK have surprised observers and have dramatically shown that the only poll that can be trusted is the one that comes when the electorate go into the voting booths. The British people decided that ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ and voted for strong, stable government. In our own country the polls, at least up to the present, have been showing that this is not the case here and suggesting that the present coalition government would not command a majority even with the support of one of the other larger parties. And, of course, with our electoral system, PR-STV, small parties of the Left or of the Right and independents stand a much better chance of holding the balance of power than in most other democracies. And we appear to have the growing disenchantment here that is to be found throughout Europe with traditional parties and politics with little evidence of reform or of participative democracy. But our economic recovery is well underway, albeit most in evidence for the moment in major urban centres, and this is bound to have a large influence on the electorate. An additional factor is that we now have new political parties on the scene which will attract voters who are in search of change and reform. Voting patterns are more unpredictable than ever before and nothing can be taken for granted as far as the next election is concerned.
PLEASE NOTE EARLIER STARTING TIME
2.00 pm AT THE CORE OF DECADES OF INADEQUATE GOVERNANCE AND CRISES IS OUR POLITICAL PROCESS?
It was the fact that our political and financial regulatory institutions were not fit for purpose that brought about the near total collapse of our economy. In many spheres of public life in this country, there is a manifestation, almost on a weekly basis, of inadequate or bad governance. We appear to have intractable problems in our health service, serious social and infrastructural problems that are a legacy of past neglect including housing and water and, generally, a short-term approach to planning and all of this in a country of less than five million inhabitants. How many of these failings can be laid at the door of our political system which is built on, to quote the late Peter Mair, ‘amoral localism’ in which the dominant imperative is oiling the local political machine and holding on to ‘the seat’ and government formation is as much influenced by constituency considerations as by other factors? Are our public services contaminated by the political environment in which they must operate and their commitment and innovation limited by it?
4.00 pm UPGRADING THE TECHNICAL & MANAGERIAL SKILLS OF OUR POLITICIANS AND PUBLIC SERVANTS IS A VITAL FUNCTION OF DEMOCRACY
The distinguished US political scientist, Francis Fukuyama says that there are three essential requirements for a functioning modern state: technical competence, the rule of law and accountability. The absence of specialist skills and management expertise has been a major contributory cause of the many catastrophic institutional failures of recent times. Right up to the present day catalogue of failures in various sectors of the public service, the Dept of Finance the Financial Regulator, Irish Water, the HSE and the Dept of Justice and Equality, have exposed gross managerial incompetence and shortage of specialist expertise in economics, finance, project management, managing change, IT, risk management and corporate governance. The culture of “gifted generalist” still prevails in many areas of our administration in spite of strenuous efforts by the Dept of Expenditure & Reform to tackle this problem. Without the necessary technical and managerial competence among our politicians and public servants to formulate and, equally important, to implement evidence-based policies we run the risk of more crises.
8.30 pm A VISIONARY NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN – THE MOST FITTING MONUMENT TO 1916?
In a world where social, economic and environmental change is taking place with unprecedented speed and with it serious challenge, it is essential that longer term planning for development take place. Using statistical analysis and broadly-based expertise, it is essential for our society that short-termism and election-related promises be replaced by national plans based on economic realities and soundly-based policies. The one fact alone that our population will be over 5 million by the early 2020s is enough to oblige government to draw up – and implement – a visionary but realistic social and economic blueprint which guarantees the well-being of future generations. We have experienced the benefits of vision and forward thinking in the past. Nowhere is this to be found more dramatically than in the Programme for Economic Expansion pioneered in the early 1960s by Dr Ken Whitaker whom we honour at this MacGill School and who, with his Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, confronted cynicism and pessimism to drive through a series of economic measures that were to change the face of this country in the second half of the last century. Similarly, planning, combined with EU Structural and Regional funds, has transformed our transport infrastructure.
11.00 am KEN WHITAKER – A PUBLIC SERVANT FOR ALL SEASONS
Ken Whitaker must rank as one of the most distinguished and most dedicated public servants of this state since its foundation. He is the example par excellence of the Irishman whose life’s work was for the betterment of his fellow citizens and this has been acknowledged by the multitude of awards that have been bestowed upon him. It is not surprising that in 2001 he was voted by television viewers ‘Irishman of the Twentieth Century’. Among the numerous positions Dr Whitaker has held are, Director of Coras Trachtála, Secretary, Dept of Finance, Director of the Central Bank, Governor of the Central Bank, president of the Economic & Social Research Institute, Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, President of the Royal Irish Academy, member of Seanad Éireann and Chairman of the Constitution Review Group. Dr Whitaker played a major part in keeping channels open to both communities in the North during the ‘troubles’ and was a major influence on the thinking of several taoisigh in relation to Northern Ireland including Sean Lemass and Jack Lynch and for that also the people of Ireland, North and South, owe him a deep debt of gratitude.
12.15 pm THE EXTRAORDINARY ACHIEVEMENT OF PATRICK MACGILL
4.00 pm THE JUSTICE SYSTEM – WHERE STANDS REFORM?
Last year was a tumultuous time in the domain of policing and justice and in many ways unprecedented. Not only did the Garda Commissioner and subsequently the Minister for Justice & Equality have to vacate their posts but the Toland Report, published in July 2014, led to the resignation of the Secretary-General of the Dept of Justice as well, a position that has, at this time, remained unfilled. This report, carried out by an Independent Review Group under Mr Kevin Toland, CEO of the Dublin Airport Authority, found the Department to be closed and secretive with a silo-driven culture and with ineffective management processes and structures. As a first step towards reform of An Garda Síochána and putting the force at a remove from politics, the new Minister for Justice appointed a chairperson of a police authority to be set up under new legislation which would also define and possibly extend the powers of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman (GSOC). It would appear that, for the moment at least, the steam which was fuelled more than a year ago by the revelations pointing to a dysfunctional police force with widespread breaches of policy, lack of effective management and accountability and wasteful practices, has somewhat waned, for the moment at least.
8.30 pm THE IRISH WATER SAGA – WHAT NOW FOR ENSURING SUPPLY TO FUTURE GENERATIONS?
The setting up of Irish Water ought to have been a fairly straightforward affair. After all, something similar exists throughout the EU and the Troika were of the view that Ireland should not be an exception. The problem was the delay in proceeding with the project and the context in which the decision was taken to proceed. Austerity was biting hard and a large part of the population were finding it difficult to make ends meet. Coming so soon after the introduction of the property tax and the profligate way in which Irish Water was set up together with the level of the new tax, it was the straw which broke the camel’s back. Street protests, sometimes accompanied by unacceptable aggression, became the order of the day and the government had to revise the plan to such an extent that the principle of conservation of a valuable resource has been greatly diluted and the amount of funding necessary to replace an antiquated, broken down system of distribution and stop pollution of our lakes and rivers does not appear to be provided for in the present scenario.
11.00 am IRELAND AND THE CRISIS IN EUROPE
1. THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE – FACING UP TO THE PROSPECT OF BRITISH WITHDRAWAL FROM THE EU
In the wake of the general election in the UK, we now know for sure that there will be a referendum there on whether or not Britain is to remain a member of the European Union. It is inconceivable that the UK would exit the Union but as one British business leader said: Thirty or more hardline Euro-sceptics could potentially hold this government to ransom. The other leaders of the EU member states must now face up to the threat of Brexit and the presidency of the Union has already opened up the possibility of some reforms that the UK has demanded but curtailing the free movement of people within the Union and curbing benefit rights of EU migrants are two of the key demands that would require treaty change. They would be unacceptable to even Britain’s closest allies who want to keep the UK as full members of the Union but who are already weary at the thought of protracted negotiations with Britain. It is, as one observer has described it, a hornet’s nest. Ireland has perhaps most to fear from the stand taken by the British PM and from the threat of Brexit. We are the only state in the EU to have a land border with the UK and in a place like Donegal and the other border counties the implications would be serious and multi-faceted. From an economic point of view, Britain is still our most important trading partner. We export 16% of our manufactured goods and 19% of services to our neighbours. From an historical and cultural point of view, the close relationships we have developed with our neighbour and ally within Europe would be somewhat weakened.
2. THE EFFECTS ON NORTH/SOUTH DEVELOPMENT
3. THE EU’S URGENT NEED FOR REFORM AND A NEW VISION
4.00 pm IRELAND’S ENERGY CRISIS – WHAT’S TO BE DONE?
Ireland is still almost totally dependent on fossil fuels for its energy needs and most of it is imported at a cost of over €6 billion per annum. We import 100% of our oil supplies, 95% of our gas and all our coal. We are also importing electricity from the UK through an interconnector, produced by nuclear power, in spite of the fact that we appear to have set our minds against nuclear on our own soil. Increasing amounts of our oil and gas supplies will be produced by the fracking process which has in recent times made the US self-sufficient in oil and gas and which, it would seem, we have also rejected as a possible source of energy if not produced elsewhere. We, as a small island on the west of Europe without any indigenous source of energy are especially vulnerable and we have had an example of energy being used as a weapon when Russia turned off its oil supply to the Ukraine. With our almost total dependency on fossil fuels we are among the most exposed countries in the EU and furthermore will have difficulty in meeting our obligations under increasingly stringent international climate change legislation. Our EU commitments require us to generate 40% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020. We have made some progress but not nearly enough. Wind as a source of electricity was at 20% in 2013 but, as we know, there are several problems such as storage and sometimes sustained opposition to the required pylon networks. Ocean and wave of which we have in abundance is also a potential source of clean energy but little progress appears to have been made on that front. Ireland is vulnerable and we need a long-term, carefully considered strategy with implementation as a must. A government White Paper is due this autumn.
8.30 pm THE ECONOMY – HOW TO MANAGE THE RECOVERY NOW AND INTO THE FUTURE?
The economy is well on the way to full recovery although in some parts of the country this is not yet making itself felt. In some of our towns and villages a pall of despondency has not yet dissipated and closures of small businesses as well as unemployment and emigration of the young are wounds that have not healed. But growth of the economy is back and will reach what appears to be a miraculous rate of growth of 5.4% this year. Unemployment is expected to drop to 9%. Our national debt which, due to borrowing to keep services afloat, rose by €160 billion in the past few years to reach a crisis at 123% of GDP is on a downward path. However our debt is still high and we have been warned by the EU Commission to maintain fiscal consolidation and to pursue economic reform when we now have the means to do so. In other words, austerity may be over but, as everyone now knows, economic prediction is a risky business and we would do well to proceed with caution when it comes to wage increases, tax reduction or increases in public spending. The world is an unstable place and some of our principal markets, the UK, the US and the European Union are still in a sluggish state and, of course, the Greek problem has not gone away and could yet have serious repercussions. Our economy is dominated by exports and any loss of competitivity would, as happened in the years leading up to the crash, reverse many of the hard won gains. Planning for “the rainy day” should be well embedded in our psyche by now and the Fiscal Council appears to be worried by what it sees as too much generosity too soon.
11.00 am OUR MENTAL HEALTH – A CAUSE FOR HOPE OR DESPAIR?
In recent years, the taboo surrounding mental health has been diminishing. As the cloak of silence is lifted the scale of the human distress and economic cost of mental illness is laid bare. A recent report in The Economist said: Put together, mental illnesses account for more suffering and premature death than heart disease and strokes or cancer and are more disabling than angina, asthma or arthritis in terms of reduced mobility and pain. In Ireland, suicide figures remain high and in the years 2008 to 2012 the recession triggered a sharp increase in mental distress. For example, over 1,000 men in the construction industry took their own lives. One in four people will require professional help with a mental health problem during their lifetime. The burden on families coping with a serious, enduring mental illness is enormous. Is it acceptable any longer that mental health services are treated as the Cinderella of our wider health service? What has to be done to ensure ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health after decades of relative neglect?
PLEASE NOTE EARLIER STARTING TIME
2.00 pm INEQUALITY – IS THERE ANY ANSWER?
SHOWING OF THE NEW DOCUMENTARY, DIVIDE
(Courtesy of The Spirit Level Documentary Unit and the Tasc think-tank)
Prof Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, published in 2014 took the world by storm. Its central message that wealth inequality is rising reaching levels that were last seen before the First World War, coming as it did in the wake of the financial crisis, became part of public policy debate. Economic growth was supposed to lift all boats and be the solution to the problem of economic distribution. According to Piketty, using income tax records to look at the share of the wealthy in national income since the First World War up to 1980, the top 10% of American earners got a third of national income with the top 1% getting a tenth. By 2007, the top 10% were receiving 50% of national income and the top 1% almost 25%. Up to the recent world economic crisis, there was little interest in inequality and it was generally believed that real poverty was a thing of the past and that it was totally accepted that bankers and company chiefs had the right to earn huge sums and the amassing of incredible wealth was considered a healthy aspect of our social democratic systems. However, when two academics in the UK, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, published a book in 2009 entitled, The Spirit Level, on the harm done to societies by inequality it surprisingly became a best seller. Its central thesis that the income gap is too large has become widely disseminated and has been taken up by world leaders. Barack Obama has described inequality as “the defining challenge of our times”. For Pope Francis “inequality is the roots of social ills”. It is in fact now generally accepted that almost all social and health problems, mental illness, drug addiction, obesity, loss of community life, imprisonment, unequal opportunities and poorer well-being for children are more common in unequal societies. But the effects of inequality are not limited to the poor. Research shows that inequality damages the social fabric of whole societies. This documentary has been inspired by The Spirit Level and the movement that grew out of it and this is its first showing in Ireland.
4.30 pm MUSICAL APERITIF
A glass of wine and a few arias
Pianist James O’Malley and Soprano, Sara Laughlin
(Grand piano kindly supplied by Limavady Pianos, Tel: 0044 7710977765)
8.30 pm CAN WE EVER GET A HEALTH SYSTEM FIT FOR PURPOSE?
Our health service, as many who are or have been patients will attest, has many strengths and even some centres of excellence. There have been, though, too many stories of negligence, lack of accountability and disregard for the patient that have continued to undermine confidence and contribute to the belief that, no matter how much of taxpayers’ money is invested in the health service and no matter how often we are told that Ireland will ultimately have the best health system in the world, the stories of negligence, incompetence, mismanagement and inability to cope with factors such as a growing population, will continue. Over €13 billion was allocated to the health service for 2015 but waiting lists for appointments to see specialists or waiting for an operation have continued to grow to the extent that the option of outsourcing of public patients to private hospitals for surgery is now being availed of in order to reduce these waiting lists. And the aim of having a universal healthcare system available to all, irrespective of means appears to have been abandoned. The system of Universal Health Insurance (UHI), which was the subject of debate at last year’s MacGill School, was controversial from the start but it was described by the Government as a “once in a generation opportunity to reform a health system that is inefficient, costly and unfair and in which access is based more on ability to pay than on need.” If that summing up is correct then we urgently need a new vision for the health service that will be fair and practical – and that can be implemented, even in spite of the opposition of vested interest groups.
11.00 am WE NEED A HOUSING POLICY AND A PLAN
We have a housing crisis in Ireland, mainly in Dublin, and recently the Government announced measures to solve the most urgent aspect of that crisis, homelessness, by announcing the provision of 3,000 new housing units by 2020. These measures have been criticised as inadequate. Be that as it may, it would appear that this country needs a longer-term view of housing, particularly in the context of a predicted growing population including more immigration. A place to live is a fairly basic human right and its availability should be controlled by more than market forces and unregulated financial conditions. We have seen the drop in construction of homes in Ireland in the past few years of our economic crisis from 94,000 in 2006 to 10,000 units per annum over the past three years. With the recovery, we have seen a surge of demand in Dublin with a shortage of supply and a steep rise in prices leading to what appeared to be the beginning, albeit relatively modest, of what happened in the “boom” years. With this, we have seen a rapid rise of the price of rented accommodation putting it out of the reach of many young families and individuals. We have also seen cash-rich people switch their assets from low interest accounts to property and mortgage seekers not able to borrow money due to the banks’ high interest rates and the control being exercised by the Central Bank. Reflecting all of this, private rents increased by 10% in 2014. We cannot allow the private rental sector to spiral out of control. A comprehensive plan properly regulating the private rental market, proposing the building of the right type of homes in the right places and preventing speculation on its own to control the housing market would appear to be an urgent necessity.
PLEASE NOTE EARLIER STARTING TIME
2.00 pm THE NATIONAL SPATIAL STRATEGY 2002-2020 – WHAT BECAME OF IT AND WHAT IS NEEDED TO REPLACE IT?
The last National Spatial Strategy (NSS) we’ve had was launched with great optimism in 2002. The National Spatial Strategy (2002-2020) was to provide a national framework to guide policies, programmes and investment. It was to be concerned with the location of people, their work and other activities and with how different places relate to each other. It was to offer a broad, long-term, comprehensive twenty-year view for achieving more balanced patterns of development. One of its key aims was to achieve balanced regional development by building up places which would be as strong as the Greater Dublin Area. Within a short space of time, the plan was attacked from several points of view, two of which were that it recommended too many hubs and gateways and that its proposals bore too much of the imprint of local politics. When, a year later, Minister for Finance McCreevy introduced his decentralisation project without any apparent reference to the Strategic Plan it really was a signal that it was already irrelevant. And yet its aims were admirable. It stated that its purpose was to provide a twenty-year planning framework designed to achieve a better balance of social, economic, physical development and population growth between regions. It stated that through closer matching of where people live with where they work, all parts of Ireland will be able to sustain: a better quality of life, a strong competitive economic position and an environment of the highest quality. Whilst the growth in the Greater Dublin Area would remain pivotal, the Plan stated that building up other places to be similarly strong was necessary and that balanced regional development was to be a priority. One of its stated aims was to renew, consolidate and develop the country’s existing cities, towns and villages and to ensure that economic, social and environmental policies and programmes would be consistent with the National Spatial Strategy. Abolishing the Plan in February 2013, the then Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, stated that “nothing had happened” in the 10 years since the plan proposed the designation of 18 gateways and hubs through which employment and investment were to be directed and that the Plan didn’t work.
PLEASE NOTE EARLIER STARTING TIME
3.30 pm THE FUTURE OF RURAL IRELAND – WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
Rural Ireland has suffered badly over the past few years of recession particularly from emigration of the young and the closure of small businesses. In some cases, the heart has been torn out of communities and the closure of post offices, garda barracks and, increasingly services such as banking have added to the trauma and made of some of our towns and villages lonely places indeed. The closure of pubs which, desirable or not, were often the only places of social and community contact, has been a further blow to life in many of our small towns and villages. The phenomenon of depopulation is not confined to this country alone and can be found in countries throughout Europe. How to bring about more balanced social, economic and environmental development in the regions is a major challenge. Had more been done to implement the National Strategic Plan, discussed in the previous session, the situation now might not have been so serious but the solution is not easily to be found and has to be multi-faceted. At the core of the problem is economic development and jobs without which a community anywhere will not survive. Encouraging commercial activity in our town centres and planning to prevent all such activity being drawn to the large stores on the periphery is another. Protecting our beautiful environment, so little respected and so much under threat, is another sine qua non of survival into the future. There have been reports done over the past decades on ways of rejuvenating rural Ireland, which have yielded little. The European Union has played its part in a concrete way, especially with the Leader Initiative, established by the EU Commission in 1991 in the wake of reforms on the Common Agriculture Policy. Leader II extended the Programme to all rural areas in Ireland. The emphasis was placed on the development of the acquisition of skills and the development of business plans for the areas. The new Leader Programme for the 2014-2020 period has allocated €220 million for rural development in this country and we will hear more in this session. But we will also hear how, by working together and harnessing initiative and innovation to help themselves, communities can overcome ‘doom and gloom’ and go on to create thriving and attractive rural centres. One such example is the town of Westport in Mayo where a comprehensive development plan has paid dividends and transformed it into “the best place to live” in Ireland.
5.30 pm AN TAOISEACH, ENDA KENNY TD
8.30 pm BEYOND 2016: WHAT ARE OUR ASPIRATIONS FOR THE REPUBLIC? WHAT MUST WE CHANGE? WHAT ARE THE REAL PROMISES TO BE MADE?
No one could deny that in one hundred years we have come a long way and have built a viable, democratic state. With a young, growing population, we have come a long way even since the hungry 1940s and 50s when the population continued relentlessly to decline as thousands abandoned towns and villages in search of a living and the dreaded disease, tuberculosis, had a firm grip on every town and village, spreading doom and despair. We do have a lot to celebrate in 2016. But with another general election coming at the same time, we need to reflect as well on how we avoid the mistakes of the past and how we can build a better republic for future generations – a republic that is a model of good governance and of sound, fair and efficient social and economic management. If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past and plan properly for the future, we must ask: what must we change? what must we do differently…….in politics, in our civil service, in business and industry, in civic society, in our vital services such as education and health, in our legal and justice systems. How do we support the arts, develop and foster our culture and cherish and protect our beautiful environment? It is a milestone in the history of this island. It is time for renewal. Yes, we can build on our strengths and fulfil our aspirations as republicans in the true meaning of the word.