Real risk of social unrest if the planned reforms to respond to the recession are not fair or not understood.

3rd February, 2009

There is now the very real risk of social unrest if the planned reforms to respond to the recession are not fair or not understood. The risk is increased by the Taoiseach’s failure to acknowledge his own personal role in Ireland’s economic crisis, and to apologise to those whose lives are now in turmoil.

Other European countries have already seen protests and even riots in response to the recession and the threat of severe increases in unemployment. France, Spain, Greece, Iceland, Estonia and Latvia have already experienced protests and riots in response to rising unemployment and cuts in public services.

Politicians and bankers have been targeted by protestors who are furious about the risk of losing their jobs and homes.

We can see the ingredients for this in Ireland. Huge increases in unemployment. Billons can be found to bail out reckless banks as vital public services are cut. Personal and household debt has never been higher. Conditions could develop for social unrest if these huge challenges are not managed fairly and in the national interest by the government.

The people have indicated they are willing to be part of a national effort to save the economy. But I believe that willingness is predicated only on the Government adopting a set of principles rooted in fairness and honesty.

The Government should announce a Pact with the People centred around the following principles;

– Acknowledgement of Responsibility. In order to have any credibility in leading Ireland out of this crisis, the Taoiseach must first acknowledge and apologise to the people for the huge mistakes he made as Finance Minister

– Straight Talking.The Taoiseach has talked about the ‘burden of adjustment’. This does not make clear to people what is been asked of them and what they might need to do. What is more, it breeds distrust.

– Fairness. Any sacrifice must be shared depending on the means that every person has. The Government must insist that those on lower incomes do not make the same level of sacrifice as those earning more. The era of millionaires flying to Portugal to avoid tax should now end. The term ‘non-domicile” is only fit for cuckoos. And the Government should say so.

-Respect. The Government should respect the fact that recession or not, some basic truths remain, including the need to ensure that those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, should not be on the receiving end of any cuts in their living standards. They built this economy. They did not, unlike others, destroy it.

-Inclusiveness. We cannot have a false consensus on the challenges facing the county. Every shade of opinion must feel represented by politicians. Politics must focus more on ideas and policy differences. Bland catch all politics just will not offer enough choice at a time when the country really needs competing ideas and solutions.

In the next five years Ireland will change utterly. We have a choice- manage that change and get through this or fail to manage and see all that we have worked for go up in smoke. Perhaps literally.