Sunday, March 06, 2011

Irish Programme for Government

Via, the Irish Times have a copy of the programme for government linked on their website, which gives the first main overview of how the two parties have settled on the policy direction of Ireland for the next five years.

- Much of the document is concerned with managing the state exposure to banking losses. has been covering this issue admirably over the last few years so I will leave to Philip, Karl, John and co to tease through this part. Ditto for the material on the fiscal targets.

- The Jobs Initiatives is listed below and looks mostly like a rebranding of things that were going to happen anyway in other policy areas.

• Provide resources for an additional 15,000 places in training, work experience and
educational opportunities for those who are out of work;
• Cut the 13.5% rate of VAT to 12% up to end 2013;
• Halve the lower 8.5% rate of PRSI up to end 2013 on jobs paying up to 356 per week;
• Reverse the cut in the minimum wage;
• Abolish the Travel Tax as part of a deal with airlines to restore lost routes;
• Implement a number of sectoral initiatives in areas that will create employment in the domestic economy;
• Initiate a long-term strategy to develop new markets in emerging economies;
• Secure additional resources for the national housing energy retrofitting plan, as part of plans to phase out subsidies in this area by 2014;
• Expand eligibility for the back to education allowance; and
• Accelerate capital works that are ‘shovel ready’ and labour intensive including schools and secondary roads.

- The section on Labour Market policy is more interesting, with commitments of up to 60,000 additional placements. This might finally be something approaching the type of scale needed to arrest this major social failure happening at present, though we need to see further details. The plan for a new National Empoyment and Entitlement service again looks like a good step but it will need to be done in a very aggressive and assertive manner. Will certainly be posting more on this.

- Some of the political provisions are sensible "stroke-of-a-pen" provisions that get rid of things that were causing widespread and understandable public annoyance, such as the ministerial pension provisions. A referendum on abolishing the Seanad just sounds like a distraction at a time when the country is on a knife-edge. In general, I am agnostic on these sections but would be open to reading the case made by proponents.

- The section (or paragraph) on third-level education is just surreal and I am going to hold off on blogging anything about it until I can find publishable words. Basically, third level is about to complete its full transition to something politicians mess with for purely symbolic ends. Something has to give here as we cannot keep going on with this nonsense. Laudable (and I dare say votewinning) as a multicentre university for the south-east might be and as important as it is to have a look at the potential that there might be some dodgy level 8 courses floating around, is this really all that came up from a whole week of negotiations about third-level education along with a vague nod at looking at the Hunt report? Its just bizarre that neither FG nor Labour mention once the importance of autonomy for good universities and that they pay lipservice to the previous policy of government control of thought under a banner of "specialisation" that had become so pushed to the point of silliness that our outgoing leader could not understand why the winner of a prestigious poetry prize wasn't flattered by the idea that his poetry was creating important branding opportunities for Ireland. I have been careful about this debate as I dont intrinsically have any problems with industry involvment in universities, government funding of applied research etc., etc,. I have a problem with any side of a debate capturing the decision makers and bringing their case to a logical absurdity and that is happening in Irish universities at present as they are turned into semi-state entities under a mantra of specialisation and economic development. I really hope that this government has more up its sleeve than that poorly cobbled together paragraph as Irish universities have been a force for good in the last 30 years and the continuing attempt to destroy them by bringing them under increasing centralised control is a misguided policy.

- Next to unemployment, the major consequence of the recession has been the absolute wipeout of honest people mostly between the age of 30 and 50, who purchased homes at bubble prices and have been left in a zombie-state with reduced incomes and loans far greater than the value of their assets. I can't remember anyone I have told outside of Ireland who wasn't surprised at the complete abscence of any protection afforded to distressed borrowers in Ireland. The document promises that MABS will be strengthened to provide more of a negotiation role with actual legal powers. I hope this happens. In general, the document is lukewarm on doing anything in this area.

- The universal compulsory health insurance provision is certainly a big change. There will be a white paper "early" in the governments term so this will certainly be a must-read. On balance, I prefer softmandatory to mandatory provisions but there is a need to look at the Irish uninsured, who are generally younger and middleincome. They are an interesting group with respect to this debate.

- I will blog separately about the mental health and literacy sections.


Kevin Denny said...

The document was put together in a hurry and shows it, for example "ballymun" and then capitalizing "literacy" for no obvious reason (my favourite). These may be trivial by themselves but they give an indication of how quickly they chose to move. For a document which promises to change the way government does its business, its curiously orthodox: make lots of uncosted promises, vague commitments and then specific commitments on random topics.
I agree that on education, it is unimpressive. Time would normally tell. Except that now time is in short supply.

Liam Delaney said...

I'm definitely not going to give anyone lectures on spelling and grammar, particularly for a document prepared under pressure in a week.

The short section on third-level is worrying though. It indicates no desire at all to back off the trend over the last few years toward more interference and less autonomy.

Kevin Denny said...

I think you're missing the point.

Liam Delaney said...

The section on health actually does look like a radical departure. I will post more specific documents as they emerge. There is a lot in the health policy that could make a real change and I look forward to seeing how they do it. Ditto the broad thrust of the employment services policy is encouraging if they show courage and really go for it. The household debt stuff looks like more of the same but perhaps the MABS aspect will work out.

Liam Delaney said...

Ok, by "missing the point" I am going to assume you mean I didn't address your core argument rather than making a pun about punctuation.

I do agree with you that a lot has been decided here in a week in the abscence of any real decision-making criteria. This is probably why you can end up with a multi-centre university in the SouthEast in the programme for government but absolutely nothing about things like PRTLI, university autonomy etc., other than "we will look at the Hunt report". Some of the plans come from preexisting FG and Labour documents that had more detailed cost-and-spend scenarios but, in general, it is worth asking whether too much is decided in a week. Any ideas on how this might be done better?

Also, its possible that they will view the fiscal policy council as their nod toward having serious economics expertise inform decisions which would be a shame as the fiscal council will largely have a role in looking at levels rather than any serious evaluation of the composition and effectiveness of spending.