“A stronger role for Seanad Éireann in a changing world”
Long-time Comhlámh member and former staff, Alice Mary Higgins is running for the Seanad – here she is talking about her perspectives on a shared future.
In 2015 Ireland played a leading role in securing global agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More than a set of aspirations, the SDGs set out an imperfect but important blueprint for long-term development on a shared planet.
They emphasise building from the base through support for decent work and investment in health and education. They highlight the importance of environmental planning and empowerment of women. Crucially they reflect the strong message from developing countries following the Millennium Development Goals; Equality must be recognised as both the driver and the test of sustainable development.
There is however a deep contradiction between that vision and the economic theories at work at home in Ireland. While the SDGs are focused on long term development from the ground up, Irish policy too often relies on discredited “trickle down” logics and short term returns. IMF research in 170 countries over 30 years found that a 1% increase for the 20% of people on lowest incomes will raise GDP while an equivalent increase for the wealthiest 20% actually decreases GDP. Yet in Ireland tax cuts for the highest earners are still being considered while low wages and precarious work are becoming a dangerous norm, particularly for women workers.
There are similar contradictions at EU level where the Europe 2020 strategy which committed to ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ is increasingly undermined by short term fiscal targets and by trade negotiations such as TTIP and CETA which threaten to erode our public policy space.
Moreover, these international trade agreements, along with policies that support tax avoidance and the continued reckless evasion of our climate change responsibilities, also serve to undermine the capacity of citizens and governments elsewhere to meet their sustainable development targets. A recent report by Action Aid highlights, for example, the impact of lost tax revenue on Zambia’s struggling education system.
Part of Comhlámh’s unique contribution has always been it’s highlighting of the links between international development and the battle for equality here in Ireland. That integrated perspective informed my own campaigning against the Citizenship Referendum as coordinator of the Comhlámh anti-racism project and is something I have tried to reflect in subsequent work with Trocaire, Older & Bolder and the National Women’s Council of Ireland. Now, the universal mandate of the SDG’s underscores the importance of bringing that perspective to every level of public policy.
Ireland must face up to and address the contradictions and challenges of this shared project, and I believe one place that debate is urgently needed is in our national Oireachtas.
I have a record of campaigning for a universal franchise for the Seanad, but I also believe we need deeper reform. I intend to press for equality proofing of economic and social policies, similar to that delivered in Scotland and a committee system which allows for greater legislative input from civil society. Crucially, I want Seanad Éireann to play a far stronger role in examining EU legislation, holding Government accountable for its international policies, and driving constructive public discussion on the global issues shaping our shared world.
Over recent years Ireland has been part of many crucial decisions at EU level. Yet there has been little official debate on the positions our Government has taken in relation around debt policies for Greece, trade negotiations such as TTIP or the erosion of human rights in the new EU-Turkey agreement on refugees.
We also need greater scrutiny around EU Directives. Just this week we saw the transposition of new rules on public procurement, an areas worth €12 billion in our economy each year, but we do not know if our Government has availed of the legislative option to add social, environmental or employment clauses to that spending and deliver wider public benefit. Meanwhile the EU Parliament are debating a Trade Secrets Directive which could make corporate whistleblowing even harder.
All of these issues have deep and wide implications and demand serious national attention. If elected to the Seanad I will be driving forward public debate on the SDGs and promoting an integrated vision for society, economy and environment – one rooted in equality and solidarity.