In Ireland, Economic Justice is a Requirement for Peace

By Ben Bull
Published May 09, 2007

I was watching the historic handshake between Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist leader, Ian Paisley, and former IRA chief Martin McGuinness on the CBC yesterday, when I turned to my wife and said, "This would never have happened without the Celtic Tiger."

"What do you mean?" she asked, as the CBC reporter recounted the widespread applause afforded to outgoing British PM Tony Blair, who has been widely credited with plotting Ireland's path to peace.

"If Ireland had not successfully tackled issues like poverty and made such huge economic reforms," I explained, "I doubt we'd be seeing these two enemies side by side. No nation can have peace unless the foundation of its society is firm."

Ireland's economic miracle has been widely reported as has its decade long struggle against poverty. For Ireland these were not incidental, or even optional issues to address.

What the Irish people recognized, as they set out to tackle these thorny affairs, was that economic mediocrity and abject poverty had become as ingrained into the image of the Irish as a pint of Guinness or a dancing lepricorn.

As we have often explained here on RTH, Ireland realized that a tarnished image was detrimental to the country's success and that the only way to change the image was to change the reality.

The Toronto Star continued its series on poverty this week with a look at the latest StatsCan report on income disparity. "The latest income figures released by Statistics Canada last week show 788,000 children were living in poverty in 2005, a rate of 11.7 per cent."

Today's paper covered the recent forum on Poverty, which featured Bob Rae as guest speaker.

"Income inequality is the second inconvenient truth in our society," opined Armine Yalnizyan, a research director of the Toronto Social Planning Council.

Ireland developed a mutli-pronged approach to tacking its deep routed low income issues, and set out to achieve the following goals:

  1. Eliminate poverty and social exclusion
  2. Tackle area-based deprivation and rural poverty
  3. Tackle inequality in the labour market
  4. Address conflict and community division
  5. Combat health inequalities
  6. Help people break out of cycles of deprivation at different stages of the lifecycle from early years to retirement.

As the 1997 Irish National Anti-Poverty ten-year Strategy winds to a close, most reports agree that these goals have been largely achieved.

So what is Canada doing to shore up its social foundation? Well, here in Ontario, the provincial government at least seems to have the issue on the radar:

"Last month's provincial budget put poverty reduction on the agenda with a new Ontario child benefit for all children in low-income families - not just those on welfare. And it outlined a plan for raising the minimum wage to $10.25 by 2010, from $8 today," reports the Star.

But country wide there seems to be a more disparate approach. "Quebec has had anti-poverty legislation since 2002.

Newfoundland last spring announced a strategy to become the province with the lowest poverty rate by 2016."

While these measures are all welcome, it's clear that a national strategy is required. And it's clear that unless Canada makes some serious commitments to address this crisis, our country will never, truly be at peace.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted May 09, 2007 at 20:50:41

This raises a really important point that most people will miss or deny.

I think a lot of people are frustrated today not because of poverty by itself, but of wealth disparity. This leads directly to impaired social structures (isolation), relationships and quality of life.

It is not disrespectful to the turbulence of Ireland to make the comparison here.

If it is socially acceptable to terrorize your neighbours with leaf blowers and concrete cutters so they can't hear themselves think, for the sake only of visual vanity, how civilized is that? If you can rationalize that kind of obvious harm to the person next door, you can rationalize anything. It is a shaky peace.

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By councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2007 at 04:11:32

I was born and raised in Galway and return to Eire to visit with my family every two years so I can give you a few facts, not statistics. Poverty exists in Eire and it always will. I visited Dublin recently and the Yuppie lifestyle is evident and there are high paying jobs for professionals whose salaries are in the range of some Hollywood stars. There are other workers who are still toiling for well below average wages. Oh by the way to report a government satistic, or midnight cowshit, from the Irish Times the six (and + )digit salaries and the low wages computed provide the average earnings, which are lower than the Hollywood stars' but higher than the Plant managers. That is how Eire defeats poverty if you ignore the beggars on the street. By the way is this the same Bob Ray who asked workers to work one day a week for less pay? Is this the same Bob Ray who along with Dave Christorferson(? spell) now peddling in Ottawa and Richard Allen who helped to drive Ontario's economy and Steelworker's pensions into the ground. Ray is a politician running for office in another party from Dave boy and will say anything to get back on the gravy train. By the way, we have leprechauns in Eire, lepricorns sounds like something you can find at an organic food store.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted May 10, 2007 at 11:47:38

Thanks for the comments councilwatch. I'm not sure what a lepricorn is either. Spelling aside, I think the gist (or is it jist...?)of what you are saying is that Ireland has fudged it's poverty numbers and the income divide is as great as ever. I think that is probably somewhat true, however I have read several articles which provide concrete numbers on numbers of low income workers now in training, off of welfare, average wage increases, and so on. I think there has been some credible improvement.

But your observations also tell a different story, in that poverty, and income disparity, is clearly still a big problem.

I didn't mean to imply that Ireland's poverty trap has been fixed. The point of the blog was mainly to draw a link between immoral social issues like poverty and the notion of a nation at 'peace'

I stand by my assertion that an Ireland without the Celtic Tiger, would not be an Ireland with peace. And a nation that does not address the scurge of poverty, can never be at peace with itself.

Ted - I agree with your comment about income disparity. This is definitely the heart of the issue. After all, if we were all equally poor, we'd have nothing to complain about - right?

There has been all sorts of reasearch conducted to make the links between income disparities and happiness and health. I seem to recall that Japan had the smallest disparity and some of the best health stats, and the US had the worst. I don't think we need research to tell us this though - it's just common sense. What is confusing is why so few countries are prepared to address the issue of income disparity. Why do shareholders allow their CEOs to walk away with such ridiculous amounts of cash? Why do fired or underperforming government beaurocrats (holy crap, my mental spell check is working overtime now...)get golden these handshakes with barely a wimper from the voters? And why do so few governments accept that issues like poverty as part of their moral responsibility to address?

Somehow the world has managed to make the Environment the issue of our time. If only we could find a way to make people stand up and fight poverty with the same tenacity.

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By Al Rathbone (anonymous) | Posted May 10, 2007 at 22:26:00

The problem in Northern Ireland is simple.

The two sides want different things. There is no ground for compromise.

To Unionists (a slight majority in the 6 counties) , merger with Ireland is a denial of their self-determination.

To Nationalists (an Island wide majority) feel that without the entire Island THEIR right to self determination is violated.

The Only deal that could make lasting peace is an Irish reconciliation with Great Britain, or the expulsion of the Protestants from Northern Ireland.

This is far from an economic issue. A large number of members from both sides are working class.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted May 11, 2007 at 09:28:25

“This is far from an economic issue”

I disagree. I’ll try to make my argument again:

Question - Would N Ireland be enjoying its current climate of peace (however sustainable and ‘real’ it is) if the people did not have some hope for their future prosperity?

I don't believe so. While I recognize that there is more to this issue than JUST economics, I do believe that individual prosperity plays a huge role in creating the foundation for peace.

When people are getting richer – or when they have a genuine hope that they can get richer – there is lest unrest and less inclination to fight.

We can argue the ins and outs of the particular N Ireland ‘problem’ all day long (believe me - I'd rather not) but that’s not really my point. My point is that where you have poverty and income disparity you have resentment and just the right ‘fuel’ for a conflict – any conflict. I believe that Ireland’s history of poverty and its sense of alienation and hopelessness provided the… kindling - if you like – which allowed the conflict to burn for so long. I’m not saying the conflict was not/is not real – I’m just questioning whether it would have gone on so long if Ireland had been the economic powerhouse, cool cousin of Europe that it is today - 10, 20 years ago. I don’t believe so. Where you have a nation on the road to prosperity people are more inclined to put aside their grievances and get on with making money.

My other point is about the notion of ‘peace’, in that you can’t have a truly peaceful nation (a moral peace, I guess you would call it) unless every citizen has the same opportunity and is treated fairly.

Like I say I don’t want to get into the N Ireland debate (please...) I just want to make the point that poverty and income disparity affect more than just people on low incomes. It affects the stability of our communities and our morality as well.

(Is it just me or is all this way too heavy for a Friday morning...? Come on! The pubs are almost open!)

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