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By Niall Crowley

Is there a new politics in the offing? The trade unions in the Right2Water campaign published “Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government” at their Mayday event. They are reconvening the trade union, political and community representatives that attended with a view to developing these into a policy platform. There is, however, much to be done to ensure this initiative can embrace the full spectrum of civil society including those working on issues of equality, environmental sustainability, cultural rights, global justice, and rural decline.

The Policy Principles start with the “Right2Water”. The prominence given to this issue is understandable given the origins of this initiative, however, it stands awkwardly in comparison to the scale of other issues. The document reflects a significant and valuable broadening of the campaign to include the “Right2Jobs & Decent Work”, the “Right2Housing”, the “Right2Health”, the “Right2Education”, the “Right2Debt Justice”, and the “Right2Democratic Reform”.

The Policy Principles promote a Decent Work Act and an end to low pay with the living wage eventually set as the statutory floor. They commit to ending homelessness and clearing social housing lists. They support a universal health system free at the point of entry as well as the reduction of student-teacher ratios, restoration and increased provision of special needs assistants, and investment in early childhood education. They call for a European Debt Conference and a state-led programme to restructure and write-down mortgage debt. They seek a system of recall of people elected to the Oireachtas and a citizen power to call a referendum in relation to legislation introduced by the Oireachtas.

This is a valuable start for a new politics. A progressive taxation model is promised. This will be key in ensuring a policy platform emerges that is credible. It will need to: ensure a minimum effective corporate tax rate; increase the rate of income tax on higher earnings and increase effective income tax rates; and introduce a wealth tax along with increased capital gains tax and capital acquisitions tax.

The difficulties in the coalition building that could create an effective new politics are evident in two significant and overarching omissions. These are the issues of climate change and environmental sustainability, and of inequality and diversity. A broader engagement of environmental and community sector organisations is needed. This should be addressed in the June meeting. Claiming Our Future has put forward proposals to further evolve the Policy Principles for a more inclusive platform.

The Policy Principles need to look to the needs of future generations. Policy commitments should include: effective environmental legislation including climate legislation with ambitious binding targets; the implementation of EU targets for reduction of emissions and the provision of renewable energy; and international co-operation to reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.

The Policy Principles need to look to the achievement of equality for a diversity of groups. Policies need to: name economic, social and cultural rights in the Constitution; secure an effective implementation of the duty on public bodies to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality and protect human rights; and implement equality budgeting at national level and in the work of public-sector bodies.

Income equality should be advanced. The gender pay gap should be reduced, basic social welfare levels increased, and the poverty and deprivation levels experienced by lone parents addressed. Increased funding should be provided to respond adequately to issues such as: domestic and sexual violence against women; comprehensive and affordable early years and after school care infrastructure; independent living for people with disabilities and closure of congregated settings for people with intellectual disabilities; adequate culturally appropriate accommodation for Travellers; an end to direct provision for asylum seekers, and regularisation for undocumented workers.

Cultural rights, global justice and issues of rural decline should be included as new action areas. Commitments should include: a national culture policy that advances cultural rights, positions community arts at the heart of cultural policy, and enables those experiencing poverty and inequality to be both consumers and producers of arts and culture; a review of foreign policy to enable it to better contribute to global justice and increased aid budgets; and an investment plan to reverse rural decline.

Water, the driving issue behind this initiative, could yet prove its Achilles heel. The Policy Principles usefully seek investment in water and sanitation systems and protection against privatization. There are issues that will divide, however, in making a commitment to ensuring a limited resource that is subject to ever increasing demand is available ‘free at the point of use’. Basic needs must be met in this way but unlimited usage on these lines is problematic. •