#RealityCheck: Examining the Social Democrats manifesto

Odran Flynn takes an in-depth look at the manifesto

#RealityCheck: Examining the Social Democrats manifesto

Roisin Shortall (left), Catherine Murphy (centre) and Stephen Donnelly (right) at their launch in Dublin | Image: RollingNews.ie

For a party of three TD’s running in its first General Election, a manifesto has to have at least one big ticket item that grabs the headlines. 

For the Social Democrats their big idea is to retain the highly unpopular USC but ring fence the €4 to 5 billion generated to be used to fund changes to other specific areas. These include revamping the Health Service, sorting out the housing problems and increased childcare services.

So what does the Manifesto say?

Health Service

In relation to the Health Service, the plan is to replace the HSE and turn it into an Irish version of the UK’s NHS. The problem is that there is no indication of how much of the proposed €4 to 5 billion would be used for this. Indeed, the absence of costing is a critical missing element throughout the manifesto. 

It is difficult to find fault with the aspirations expressed, as few of the electorate would dispute that the changes would mean a significant improvement in our current service.

However, apart from the absence of costing, there is the major issue of restructuring a service that is an organisational nightmare.

It is only a decade since the old Health Board system was reworked into the HSE, yet the promised rationalisation of the system to reallocate the resources to front line medical departments rather than excessive administration, has never really materialised.

Despite being a left of centre party, the various unions representing the different sectors in the HSE will not take kindly to reduction of staff numbers or significant changes to terms of employment.

Housing

Their plan to resolve the housing crisis is interesting and at warrants a debate. Whether it is necessary to set up a new government department, which they would entitle “Department of Housing Communities and Planning” is debatable as it would undoubtedly create another expensive layer of administration.

However, their intentions are good and they match Fianna Fáil plans to give an immediate increase in the rent supplement. Their ambition is to release houses currently occupied by the elderly through a financial incentive to downsize. They also plan to extend the Fair Deal scheme to cater for those who are in nursing homes and consequently have vacant houses has merit but whether the cohort of people in this age group together with their families would support such a measure is very questionable.

The introduction of a development site levy is certain to raise serious objections from the construction industry if it is seen to be a deterrent to the resurrection of the sector that was instrumental in the economic crash.

Childcare

They plan to introduce measures that would see funding provided to extend paid parental leave to 36 weeks and increase this to 52 weeks over three budgets. This is sure to meet resistance from employers and would pose a difficulty for a lot of small companies.

They also plan to link higher capitation payments to childcare providers to proof of increased quality. They would also set maximum charges for childcare and extend subsidised childcare places to lower income families in all areas.

Community Bank

Their proposal to set up a community bank is aimed primarily at dealing with the decline in rural population coupled with the closure of commercial banks, post offices, Garda stations and pubs. The bank would be an amalgamation of services provided by post offices and credit unions. Profits generated would be reinvested locally but it does not deal with the issue of small towns and villages who no longer have a post office or credit union.

While it would mean less distances to travel it would still be a burden particularly for the significant portion of rural dwellers that are elderly, live alone and have no transport.

Remove water charges

For a party that subscribes to socialist principles it was inevitable that they would want to scrap water charges. However they are not as yet calling for the abolition of Irish Water but have no comment on how the maintenance of the water infrastructure would be funded.

They have a whole range of other proposals such as reducing prescription charges, public transport fares, motor insurance costs and third level fees. They also plan to introduce free primary education and extend free GP care to all children.

However, none of these proposals are costed but rather they are items that would form the basis of discussions should the presence of their post election TD’s be needed to form a government.

And although this document is high on aspiration and short of hard figures, that is a scenario that certainly could not be ruled out.

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