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All the international research tells us that the social world order is rapidly changing under our noses from a social welfare state to a social investment state.
This change is underpinned by a new way of looking at the state and the role of government in our lives. There are only a small number of key principles that underpin this new way of doing politics and the economy and once grasped they can be clearly seen and heard on Irish radio and television debates.
The first key principle is that everything is viewed from the position of the “competitive individual” and no matter what you are talking about, be it health, education, etc, it is only the individual that can be considered.
The second key principle is the “individual” acts as an “entrepreneur” and no matter what happens, they are expected to work on themselves and build their own resilience.
The third key principle is that the individual stops looking in the direction of the state for support and the state itself has no role under any circumstances in interfering in the markets.
This change in the social order arises from a new policy of economics. Problems in the past that were shared and seen as social problems are nowadays regarded as problems of the failing individual, in the case of education the blame is shifted toward the “failing quality teacher” in agriculture “the poor quality farmer”.In the case of health blame is being shifted toward the “failing doctor or nurse”, etc.
In a debate on the future of rural Ireland David McWilliams’ Ireland on TV3 last Thursday (November 23) most of the talk was based on Dublin and everything else was based on markets.
There was no suggestion by McWilliams or either of the other two economists in the audience that any case should or could be made to show preference to interfere in the markets in areas of low population density in order to bring 21st-century services to these areas and generate a new quality of life in our rural towns, villages and hinterland. In fact the argument made was worse than this.
It was suggested that Dublin was subsidising all the other cities and instead the country needed to be broken up into distinct cities with their elected mayors who had powers to raise their own taxes. All this thinking is aligned with the new “go-it-alone” philosophy of the new social investment state.
McWilliams wound up the programme giving two examples of young people who had set up small businesses in rural Ireland and this helped him make the point that people needed to stop looking towards the state or Industry for solutions and show the resilience needed to do it for themselves just like these young people who had become self-employed.
So what are the implications for the future of rural Ireland? This is something we have started discussing in a new grouping of interested citizens which we are calling Rural Ireland Matters (if you want to know more email: email@example.com).
As our politicians and economists are only ever acting nowadays on whatever they write down on their strategic plans, it appears increasingly important that a ground movement of interested citizens get involved in shaping this debate.
If the strategic plan for rural Ireland is to let the markets dictate then we can all turn the lights out. Sadly what Is all too clear is that there is no national plan any time soon for imaginative leadership in relation to fresh thinking about this problem.
If Ireland as a small country is split up into “individual” cities struggling for their “own”
resources then the concept of community and any notion of public good will be gone as everything is turned into commodity.
According to the key principles I have outlined above we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.
Michael O’Sullivan, chairman,
Rural Ireland Matters,
Geraldine Mooney-Simme, secretary,
Senior Lecturer in Education,
University of Limerick
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