[Sinn Fein]

29 September 2001

MacManus calls for Government action on Poverty

Speaking today at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Dublin, Sligo Alderman Seán MacManus, critised the government for its failure to address the imbalances that exist in Irish society.

MacManus particularly highlighted the poverty that many suffer in the Western and Border regions. The Alderman claimed that a new stategy of development was required that would ensure equality and prosperity for all citizens.

The full text of Alderman MacManus statement in proposing Motion 111 follows:


For the past six or seven years the people of this state have been fed an ongoing diet of hype surrounding what is called the Celtic Tiger. Not a day has passed during that period without some reference to this much vaunted but for many in our society, mythical economic animal.

If we were not familiar with the economic realities we would be led to believe that this state is some type of economic utopia: a place in which every citizen lives in full and plenty, with good housing and good jobs, with free and well-funded health and education services available to all. Indeed, when we listen to the statements of various government ministers it would seem that they too live in this fairyland of fortune for all.

Unfortunately, for those who must eke out an existence at the lower end of the economic scale, the reality is a whole lot different.

In many areas throughout this state, not only in deprived urban areas but also in many rural places, economic reality means scrimping to make ends meet. It means not having adequate housing, access to an equitable health service, or to an adequately funded education system. Above all it means trying to survive and raise families in a system in which true social justice does not exist.

What relevance does the tiger economy have to the lives of the 30% of our people who live under the poverty line?

Within any society but especially within one that we are told is doing well economically a governments performance should be measured in terms of how much it helps to raise the living standards of the least wealthy of that society.

By virtually any criteria it can be seen that this current Coalition like its predecessors has failed to safeguard the interests of the weakest in our society. One measure of the gross inequality in this state is the fact that a quarter of all children and a fifth of all adults live in households with less than half the average weekly income. The gap between the wealthiest in our society and the least well-off has not remained static over the past few years, it has increased.

We in Sinn Fein have long argued that creating conditions of social justice must be central to all economic and social policies in Ireland. This means government taking responsibility for addressing the inequities that are so obvious in our society. What is there to fear from implementation of a programme which would provide homes for those who most need them, improved health services for the thousands on waiting lists, and equal access to properly funded education and childcare? These are the bed-rock policies which we, as Irish republicans, aspire to. We recognize that in order to achieve the best possible and more evenly distributed services, those in this society who can most afford it must pay their fair share.

Not only must the government move to address these social shortfalls, they must also take radical steps to tackle the regional economic imbalance that now exists.

Even a superficial examination of the National Development Plan will immediately reveal this regional disparity. Within the NDP, north of a line from Dublin to Galway with the exception of the Dublin-Dundalk route there are no plans to provide any dual-carriageways into the North West or Border regions. At a recent economic conference that I hosted in Sligo for public representatives from both sides of the border in the North West, the lack of infrastructure was identified as the major impediment to economic progress and to a more equitable distribution of wealth. These infrastructural deficiencies plague the road and rail network, the gas and electricity supply, and broadband telecommunications services. Ministers often express lip service to the provision of these services especially on their visits to the West and North West but we have yet to witness talk being supported by action.

How galling it is for those of us who live in these under-resourced regions to listen to Bertie speak of spending up to a billion of taxpayers money on a folly in Abbotstown while we dont even have a decent road into our area.

These then are the economic issues that must be tackled if we all are to share in the new wealth.

Past and indeed present government performance has not provided grounds for optimism. However, such failure on the part of the conservative parties will not deter Sinn Fein. Over the coming months we must ensure that we bring our vision for a fairer and just society into every household in this land. We must reassure the Irish people in particular those who feel that they have no one to speak for them that there is a better way, a more equal way, one in which we all can share. It is a message that we will also bring into Leinster House in force after the next general election. ENDS

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