Planning for justice?
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
At one level you have to hand it to Fianna Fáil and their PD cousins. Just when you finally admitted to yourself that not only was there no Plan B but there was no real plan other than the objective of staying in office for long periods, they come out and top all the bedgrudgers with their six-year £40 billion `National Development Plan'.
At first glance the only thing missing other than the kitchen sink was inclusion of funding to ensure that Roy Keane does get his £40,000-plus weekly salary for the next six years as probably the best midfield player in Europe, if not the world.
Why is there no programme to fund the children who come to school hungry from cold houses and therefore are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to learning even before a book is opened?
The core details of the plan are, as already stated, a commitment to spend more than £40 billion over the next six years. There will be massive infrastructural investment in roads - £4.7 billion, housing - £6 billion, public transport - £2.234 billion, education - £5.35 billion, employment - £10 billion, and industrial development - £4.5 billion.
The real test for this plan is whether it will deliver social justice and eliminate inequality
What is interesting about this plan compared to the 1988 and 1994 plans is that only £4.5 billion will come from the European Union. Public-private partnerships will cough up £1.98 billion, with another £33.8 billion from 26-County taxpayers. This leads nicely into the first major flaw of the plan, that is the lack of consultation with those who will actually fund the vast bulk of the plan - the taxpayer.
But let us not be knockers. Let's give Bertie and the gang a chance to tell us what the plan will do for the Irish people. You might want to cut out and keep this bit when in future years the notorious short memories of government ministers kick in and they forget the hype-filled promises they made this week at the plan's launch.
Bertie Ahern believes that the plan will ``end the regional imbalances which have disfigured modern Ireland''. Charlie McCreevy told us that the plan would have a ``radical transforming impact'' on our lives. Mary Harney proclaimed the funding programme as ``the most ambitious plan since independence''. She also said that the government had the ``imagination and determination to turn words into reality''.
Beyond the coalition soundbites,, there is plenty of detail in the 304-page plan. However, even when you probe the seemingly more detailed sections, there are still gaps and inadequacies with the strategy. Take, for example, the section on employment. A whopping £11 billion will be spent here over the next six years. This part of the plan begins with the assertion that ``People are a country's most important asset''. Charlie McCreevy distils this into the objectives of making people more employable and addressing the emerging skills shortages in the economy''. In government-speak this means that £5.9 billion will be spent on enhancing the ``employability'' of workers and another £6 billion on ``adaptability''. Only £250 million will be made available over the six years for childcare.
The plan does touch on some of the key areas of access to third level qualifications, literacy programmes, and preventing early school leaving. However, it is way short on the actual details of how they will redress the huge inequalities in the Irish education system.
Yes, there is over £1 billion to be spent on schemes such as Youthreach and Vocational Training Opportunities. This assumes that people will leave school early with educational problems.
Why is there no funding aimed at solving the simple problems of not enough school books, ensuring smaller class sizes in disadvantaged areas and offering remedial teachers for primary and secondary schools? Why is there no programme to fund the children who come to school hungry from cold houses and therefore are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to learning even before a book is opened?
These people are at a serious disadvantage from their first day at school. However, the emphasis of this plan seems to be to let them fall before helping them. Can we not admit that this is the real blight of modern Ireland?
other blight of this plan is the huge funding earmarked for road building. Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caolain has welcomed the £535 million earmarked to be spent on non-national roads. This is very much a welcome step.
However, a total of £4.7 billion is to be spent on roads over the six years. Much of this spending is on motorways from Dublin to the border, to Galway, to Cork and Limerick.
Throughout Europe and North America, the experience of motorway building has in many cases led to more traffic congestion. The Dublin government does not seem to have thought through the consequences of such construction. They have earmarked £2.234 billion for public transport.
Surely in the long run it is only an efficient and vibrant public transport system that will solve the traffic gridlock hampering economic activity in the state. In that case, the spending levels on public transport and road transport should probably have been reversed.
Again, the planned spending totals are impressive but the Dublin government does not seem to have thought through the consequences of its spending. In this case, the environmental consequences are clearly not fully evaluated.
In Dublin, the lion's share of funding is going on the LUAS light rail project. While the LUAS might be worthwhile in the long run, funding for other transport issues like bus corridors and fleet expansion of Dublin Bus should be a priority. Dublin Bus receives the lowest funding of any city bus service in Europe. There are funds of £220 million earmarked for Dublin Bus over the six years, while LUAS will get over £900 million. At its peak, LUAS will carry only a fraction of the capacity of Dublin Bus.
Throughout the Development Plan, there are a range of positive measures and spending priorities that most people will support. However, there is throughout an overreliance on the feel-good nature of the funding proposals and not enough emphasis given to thinking through the consequences of the plan.
The core problem facing the Irish people and the Dublin Government is the inequalities that run through Irish society. The real test for this plan is whether it will deliver social justice and eliminate inequality. That would should be the core objective of government over the next six years.
Development Plan ``positive for Border region'' - Ó Caoláin
``Very positive for the Border region'' is how Sinn Féin Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin described the National Development Plan unveiled by the government in Dublin on Monday.
The plan devotes a chapter to the Border, Midland and West Regional Operational Programme for the period 2000 to 2006. £13.8 billion is promised to be allocated for a range of projects over the period. This includes £535 million on non-national roads. The plan points out that non-national roads carry over 62% of total road traffic. 46% of the allocation for non-national roads is to go to the Border, Midlands and West regions. Deputy Caoláin said:
``This Development Plan is very positive for the border region. I welcome in particular the commitment to our non-national roads. Here in Counties Cavan and Monaghan that is an absolutely essential measure. ``Important commitments have been made across a range of areas affecting the daily life condition of people throughout the border counties.
``These commitments must be delivered upon and implementation should begin with the forthcoming Budget. I urge all the relevant voluntary, statutory and community bodies in our region to study this plan carefully and to work together to ensure that the promise is delivered and that we reach our full potential.''