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Brendan Howlin: Goverment is tackling inequality through job creation

My friend and colleague, Fergus Finlay, penned some generous words about me in his column Tuesday last.

They are appreciated, though I am firm in my view that our economic recovery is an achievement rooted in the efforts of the Irish people.

Fergus criticises remarks made by me in my budget speech, about the efforts undertaken by the Government to promote equality during the crisis. My remarks referred to the issue of income inequality and were not of themselves controversial.

The Irish tax and welfare systems are effective by any standards at tackling core inequality, and this Government’s safeguarding of the social-protection budget, at a time of hardship, has seen Irish outcomes improve vis á vis other European states that have reduced social-welfare spending during the crisis.

Yet, that is not the point Fergus makes.

He decries lack of funding into issues like family supports as a measure of our commitment to an equal society.

I don’t disagree with this — hence the focus in this year’s budget on child and family issues — but Fergus knows that sustainable public investment in services is predicated on a successful economy.

We were forced to reduce spending in recent years because our economy collapsed.

It follows that, as our economy has returned to growth, we have been able to release more resources.

Improving people’s living standards, however, will never only be about public spending, either. Work remains the greatest protection against poverty.

Reduced unemployment numbers are not mere statistics, for example, but represent real opportunities for those returning to work and for their families.

Social democratic parties across Europe, including the Labour Party here in Ireland, have long since concluded that it is as important to focus on the size of the pie to be divided as the division of the pie itself.

Brendan Howlin

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

Merrion Row

Dublin 2


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