2014 is the year that we have been waiting for the last five years – the year when we regain our ‘fiscal independence’ with the end of the programme agreed with the Troika.
This turning point should focus our mind on what type of society we want to re-build and what political and economic decisions are needed to achieve an end to poverty and a more equal and inclusive Ireland.
Independence does not mean isolation, and the future of Irish society will depend on decisions taken collectively in the European Union, and increasingly in the Euro-zone, as well as national decisions.
We in EAPN Ireland believe that we can end poverty, reduce inequality and build a strong, sustainable recovery. To do this we need to empower communities, especially those affected by poverty and discrimination, and invest seriously in incomes to provide a dignified life, quality and accessible services and worthwhile, secure work with a living wage.
Achieving this is possible, but only if we rethink our priorities as a society and re-focus our resources, reversing the policy directions of many years.
This is not a new debate for EAPN Ireland. At the end of 2013, for example, we ran a seminar on ’40 years of Ireland in Social Europe’ which looked back at the ambition, successes and failures of the Poverty Programmes and the gender equality debates of the 1970s and looked at the questions facing us now. In December, our Chairperson Philip O’Connor presented our proposals on how to promote social inclusion within Economic and Monetary Union to the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs and in early January our Policy Officer Paul Ginnell told a delegation from the European Parliament Economic Committee of our views on the legacy of the Government/Troika programme.
In 2014, this debate will continue in 2014. Some activities coming up include:
- An Alternative Social Report and Plan for Ireland: The EAPN Ireland Policy Group on Europe 2020 are drafting this plan, for end February, to promote discussion and provide the basis of advocacy work into the future;
- Decent work: EAPN Ireland’s Vice-Chairperson Lorraine Mulligan is convening a task force at European level to produce an EAPN guide to campaigning on living wages;
- Irish Social Inclusion Forum: EAPN Ireland plans to work with the Community Workers Co-op and the Social Inclusion Division of the Department of Social Protection to organise workshops around the country in March to prepare for the Social Inclusion Forum. (Last year’s report is now available);
- Working to ensure effective use of European ‘structural funds’ to fight poverty and inequality – the EAPN Ireland Briefing on the European Social Fund 2014-2020 is a first step in this
- Influencing the new European Parliament: The new European Parliament, to be elected on 23 May, will have greater powers than ever before and will have a much bigger say than before in electing the President of the European Commission. EAPN Ireland is preparing resources to help community groups to ensure that poverty is a central issue in the campaign and we are holding training sessions and ‘hustings’ to meet the candidates in all three European constituencies.
- An adequate income: EAPN Ireland is convening an Irish minimum income network as part of the European Minimum Income Network, to put the question of an adequate income for a dignified life on the Irish and European agenda. We will publish a report shortly and will organise a national conference in June.
We hope that, as well as the day-to-day struggle to defend and improve conditions at local level, members and allies will work with us to make 2014 the year when the end of poverty and social exclusion is put decisively at the centre of debate about Ireland’s recovery and hope replaces fear and caution.
We look forward to working with you in 2014.
Robin Hanan, Paul Ginnell and Maureen Gondipon, EAPN Ireland staff