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By Dr Peter Doran, Katherine Trebeck and Dr Tony Shannon.


“Country marks a commons of earth and elements: a shared ecology of lands and waters”. (Richard Kearney and Sheila Gallagher, 2017)

The Green Party may be lining up as relatively junior partners in the new government formation but the Atlantic wind is at their backs when it comes to owning and leading the narrative for a pioneering post-pandemic recovery that places a holistic vision of ‘wellbeing’ at the centre of a new programme for government. 

In doing so, the new government will find allies in an emerging alliance of wellbeing economy leaders in New Zealand, Iceland, Scotland and beyond. These countries’ leaders have been to the forefront of the response to the pandemic and they will also pioneer transformations for mid- to long-term wellbeing economies as part of a Wellbeing Economy Government network (WEGo).

We are calling on Ireland to join other leaders in the Wellbeing Economy Government (WEGo) partnership so that Ireland can collaborate in learning how to ensure its economy works for people and planet: building a new economy fit for the 21st century. We are calling for all government outcomes and budget calls to be measured against agreed wellbeing outcomes with the full participation of all ministers, departments and agencies. 

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has already placed intergenerational wellbeing goals at the heart of her Government’s programme. Ardern says fundamental values pursued by the New Zealand Government are empathy, care, compassion and collaborating for the common good. 

In her thought-leading book ‘Doughnut Economics: 7 ways to think like a 21st Century Economist’, Kate Raworth explains:

 “For over 70 years economics has been fixated on GDP, or national output, as its primary measure of progress. That fixation has been used to justify extreme inequalities of income and wealth coupled with unprecedented destruction of the living world. For the twenty-first century a far bigger goal is needed: meeting the human rights of every person within the means of our life-giving planet”.

Those profound challenges that Covid-19 herald, offer an opportunity to society, to now build back a wellbeing economy instead of reverting to the same old structures: ‘building back better’ rather than returning to business as usual.

Building on ‘The Great Pause’

The  new Irish government looks set to emerge during this ‘great pause’ in the global economy. The unthinkable has become the imperative. In our homes, our workplaces, and places of education we have been on an enforced retreat, a time of reflection on what is most important to us. Connections with friends, family and colleagues have never appeared more important. The hidden, under-valued and intimate economy of regard and care – exemplified by the contributions of workers in hospitals and care settings. They are our new super-heroes. Nature has taken a breather, skies have cleared of urban pollution, and climate change emissions are on their way down. Foxes are reclaiming the night streets. 

Design is the first step to a new system. This applies to our economic systems just as surely as it applies to architecture, so it applies to the way in which we produce our food, our shelter and other necessities. 

Our societal and ecological crises are, at root, a crisis of value. This moment of pause has brought increasing clarity to the things we value most, we now see how valuable food, health, income security, education, mobility, access to nature, social connection and public services are to us. Our fixation on other measures of value, such as the relic of GDP, does more to obfuscate than inform such vital policy decisions. 

The root cause of our multiple challenges – of inequality, access to adequate shelter, universal health provision and the climate emergency – is how the economy is currently designed – in a way that does not balance the needs of people and planet and in a way that values measures such as short-term profit and GDP, rather than those broader values that are key to a decent society. These economics structures are design choices from the past – and hence can now be reconsidered and redesigned, for the future.

Building Back Better

The negotiations on the formation of a new government present a unique opportunity to (re)consider the policies required to ‘build back better’ so that, rather than our society remaining in service to our economy, our economy must serve us and our societal and ecological wellbeing. With international allies in other thought-leading nations shifting towards wellbeing, these negotiations present the next Irish government with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to advance society via positive disruption to the economic status quo, shifting to ‘build back better’ while easing back on the gears of an economic machine designed for another age. 

We can live well and flourish with some boundaries. In fact some limits are strangely liberating. 


Katherine Trebeck, Advocacy and Influencing Lead Wellbeing Economy Alliance; Co-author: The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown Up Economy; Senior Visiting Researcher University of Strathclyde | Honorary Professor University of the West of Scotland.  

Dr Tony Shannon, Ripple Foundation, Dublin, Ireland

Dr Peter Doran, School of Law, Queens University Belfast; Advisory Committee, UK What Works Centre for Wellbeing; Wellbeing Economy Alliance; Co-Convenor of Northern Ireland Roundtable on Wellbeing (with Carnegie United Kingdom Trust) (2014-2015). Author: A Political Economy of Attention: Reclaiming the Mindful Commons.


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