The Summer School will analyse the political, economic and administrative systems that have allowed our economy to be brought to its knees and will propose solutions. The nature and structures of our parliamentary democracy and our political culture will come under particular scrutiny. Questions will be asked as to how and why our political and economic institutions were unable to foresee the extent of the current crisis or were incapable of taking or were unwilling to take measures that might have diminished the gravity of it. In the wake of the publication of the Honohan report and of the Regling/Watson report there is no longer any doubt but that this crisis is a domestic crisis fuelled by excessive and reckless foreign borrowing by our financial institutions which was used to fund an out of control construction industry at the expense of other sectors of the economy.
2009 revealed the seriousness of the country’s economic situation when our banking system was on the brink of collapse, construction ground to a halt, consumer confidence practically disappeared, unemployment soared and two harsh budgets had to be implemented in order to prevent a colossal public debt from spiralling to a point where the whole national economy would collapse.
As a result of the fiscal measures implemented by the Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, the situation has stabilised somewhat, the economic outlook for 2010 is not quite so gloomy and there are even signs of an upturn. However, with businesses still closing down, tens of thousands of people in the dole queues, house owners struggling to repay large mortgages, our banking system still in deep crisis and a national debt of alarming proportions, the light at the end of the tunnel is, for the moment at least, barely a flicker. There is still plenty of bitter medicine to be swallowed in this year and in the years ahead before our economy can be restored to full health.
Questions remain as to how we have arrived at this point, how the economy was brought to such a crisis point in such a short space of time. Why, for example, was spending allowed to continue unabated at the same time as tax revenue was falling? Why was the gradual but relentless erosion of our competitiveness and our over reliance on construction allowed to proceed without intervention resulting in a deeper crisis than might otherwise have been? Why has public sector reform, discussed and analysed in numerous reports for years, not been implemented and its services streamlined, modernised and made cost effective and competitive? What in our political system encourages re-election to be the dominant concern of our public representatives, including government ministers, sometimes to the detriment of the overall national interest, particularly in the run up period to elections. How can this system be regulated and reformed? Is the political system geared to producing sufficiently qualified personnel capable of governing? Where are accountability and responsibility in our overall system of political, social and economic governance? And what about the electorate baying for more and better public services whilst at the same time resistant to paying higher taxes?
The by now widely acknowledged need for institutional and political reform of the way in which our state is run as well as the future development of our economy will be top of the agenda of the 2010 MacGill School on the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary.
Joe Mulholland, Director.