Improvements to Ireland’s public services should be funded by taxing wealth and expanding employer PRSI contributions, the new president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has said.
Speaking at the Ictu biennial conference, Kevin Callinan said these measures, along with financial penalties for environmentally damaging activities, would generate enough funding to deliver “decent public services worthy of a wealthy European nation”.
Mr Callinan said employer social contributions in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland were far below the norms of other advanced European nations, and that far less is spent on public services and infrastructure.
“Right now, we spend far less on public services and infrastructure than similar European countries. Almost €3,500 less per person each year in the Republic, a total of over €17bn in 2019 alone, and the gap is wider in the UK,” he said.
“In the south, the entire public spending gap between Ireland and its nearest EU neighbours matches, almost exactly, the shortfall in employer social contributions,” he added.
Mr Callinan said the pandemic had “laid bare” the structural weaknesses of public services both North and South.
“And the vulnerabilities of our low-tax, light touch, fiscal and regulatory regimes left us exposed to a massive external shock for the second time in little more than a decade,” he said.
Mr Callinan will serve his two-year term in tandem with his role as general secretary of Ireland’s largest public service union, Fórsa.
He said the State-led response to the pandemic was evidence of what could be achieved when it mobilises resources for the common good, when people work together collectively, and when citizens have access to essential goods and services.
Mr Callinan spoke about the Ictu’s “practical blueprint for embedding these principles into Ireland’s economic and social model”.
The ‘No Going Back’ programme, supported by conference delegates, sets out the Ictu’s post-Covid economic vision, which aspires to all workers earning at least a living wage, a European-standard social wage, and benefiting from improved pensions and safety nets for those unable to work. The plan also calls for investment in education, childcare and infrastructure.
“Our vision of decent public services, worthy of a wealthy European nation, would be funded by an expansion of employer contributions, increased tax on wealth rather than just incomes, and meaningful financial deterrence for environmentally damaging activities,” said Mr Callinan.
He said the plan also seeks to reform State finances, to “bring this island in line with the rest and the best of Western Europe”, and create a more sustainable society.