Social Democrats’ lofty ideals do not add up in the real world

Ask a five-year-old what they want when they grow up and most will have an answer.

Many want to go to outer space or have their sights on a speedy Ferrari or others may wish to become a pop celebrity with all the diamonds and bling that goes with the title.

But then we grow up and quickly realise that in this cruel world dreams can be very difficult to achieve if you don’t have the dosh to fund them.

And that’s the problem new party — the Social Democrats — may have. Their vision for the future involves some very positive and downright sensible ideas, including introducing a better health system, reducing the cost of education, addressing corruption, and tackling the housing crisis. But like the child drawing pictures of a fast red car they seem to have no idea how much their vision will cost. Or if they have costed their policies, the numbers are nowhere to be seen in their manifesto.

Social Democrats’ lofty ideals do not add up in the real world

Launching their Building a Better Future 2016-2026, the party yesterday insisted that this was not a budget document but a vision of how to improve the country.

“This is not a budget document; this is a political manifesto which sets out where the Social Democrats stand on a whole range of issues,” joint leader Róisín Shortall was at pains to state yesterday. And it was just as well she clarified that because anyone looking for costings or figures to accompany their ideas would have been disappointed.

Róisín Shortall
Róisín Shortall

Ms Shortall added: “We have been asked what the Social Democratic party is about. It’s about a vision for the country and how we can repair the damage that has been done to the country over the course of the recession.”

This was backed by joint-leader Stephen Donnelly who said: “This isn’t a budget document; it’s a political manifesto, laying out a better vision for this country for the next 10 years.”

Although the numbers are vague, what clear is the fact that the Social Democrats have taken the decision to not reduce taxes. While maintaining the current tax level may not be the most popular of policies — they are one of the only parties not promising tax cuts — many families would see paying the current tax rates as a tough but sensible trade-off for being guaranteed a proper working health service; paid parental leave for the first 12 months of a child’s life; and free primary education including books and transport.

Stephen Donnelly
Stephen Donnelly

And if people do want a publicly-funded, universally accessible, high-quality health care system along the lines of the NHS they will have to get realistic about where the funding will come from — and that is through taxes. When asked about this yesterday Mr Donnelly said it would take an initial investment of “several billion” to implement this one-tier health service but beyond a ballpark figure the numbers were again absent.

The Social Democrats also have a vision to reduce to cost of prescription drugs; abolish water charges; extend the school meals programme; and subsidise childcare services for low-income families. They will reduce third-level registration fees and provide free GP care to all children.

All sensible proposals. But no matter how sensible the vision, without costings the party will still have to go back to the classroom to see if the sums actually add up.

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