With a general election fast approaching, the media has preoccupied itself with the issue of who would potentially go into coalition with who. A fast analysis would suggest that Labours vote is on the verge of collapse after four years supporting a neo-liberal agenda. It can be argued that without labours influence, austerity and cutbacks could have been much worse, but I think this is a fact that will be lost on many voters. For every suggestion that Labour have sacrificed their ideology, there is a new political party springing up. In fact, there are so many, it feels like not one of them has the potential to fill the gap that labour may leave. The outcome could go any number of ways, and it could be a case that the political wrangling may overshadow the issues most important to Ireland right now.
It is now the time to stay focused on policy, not populism and we take a look now at some of the issues that will be the most relevant over the coming few months and years.
Repeal the 8th
The issue of abortion will just not budge from the agenda, and after the momentum of the success of the introduction of gay marriage, it is logical to see the campaigners move onto it. It is the next logical step from a human rights perspective, to move control from state to individual, but in the context of Ireland’s conservative past it will always prove to be a decisive issue and one that Enda Kenny will struggle to keep until after the election.
Homelessness and Housing
There was national outrage last year when homeless man Jonathan Corrie died in a doorway only yards from Government Buildings. A year later, Ireland’s homeless problem is worse and no significant policy action has been taken on it. Recently, Enda Kenny spoke out and said that there is no reason for anyone to be homeless this Christmas. This shows not only a misunderstanding of the problem, but a crass denial of the problem that is literally on our doorsteps.
Our health system is in crisis. This is nothing new, it has been in crisis for the best part of ten years now, and never really recovered from the savage cuts in the 80’s. Passing the buck seems to be the name of the game, as the responsibility lies with the HSE, set up in 2006 to take sole responsibility of the health system. Minster for Health Leo Varadkar’s response to the crisis was to penalise hospitals for overcrowding and over spending. Well, no point actually trying to take on the problem directly if you only have a few months to a cabinet reshuffle I suppose.
The policy document outlining the plan for the mental health services is called a Vision for Change. Aptly named, it was launched in 2006, was due to finish in 2016, and all of the lovely fluffy and vague policy aspirations have stayed in their visionary format. Community mental health teams are either non-existent or incomplete, children remain on adult wards, there has been no integration with separate services, there are no stepdown facilities, and people remain in mental asylums. The great flaw with this piece of policy was that funding for implementation was reliant on the sale of old buildings. Great plan in 2005, not so great in 2009. Sure, while you have the basket out there, why not put all of our eggs in it. We have the second highest suicide rates in Europe for young men and the highest for young women (more on this). Oh, and a fantastic case of denial to go with it.
What is needed for all of these issues is engagement from politicians and policy makers, and to move towards a system of transparent and strategic policy making. We as an electorate need to focus not only on who we want to tackle these issues, but how in fact we want them dealt with.
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