Ireland's future can be bright, despite challenges ahead

A fairer, sustainable and more equal Ireland is possible said Fr Seán Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland (SJI) today. By Alison Spillane.

In an interview with Politico at the Claiming Our Future (COF) event in the RDS, Fr Healy said that the next step for COF would be to involve more people in the discussion. He said that involvement should be at local, regional, and national level and that there is tremendous potential in developing this type of citizens' forum and addressing the problems we are facing.

Speaking about today's event he said it was a tremendous achievement: "It's great to get 1,000 people to look at the shape of Ireland at present and what its future shape might be if we were to build a fairer and more sustainable future and think in terms of how we might get from where we are towards a better future."

He said the response to COF online, at various events around the country and in the RDS was fantastic. He added that it showed there is a great desire amongst the public to have alternatives in terms of the whole way we organise our society and the way we measure progress. "People are looking for a more detailed analysis of the [current] situation but also looking for ideas about what alternatives might look like."

Fr Healy also highlighted the transparent nature of the voting system used at the event. The COF website will give a detailed breakdown of how each individual group voted so there is no potential for fraud in the process.

The need for equality emerged as an important concern at today's discussion. Among the policy choices voted for by participants were the need to invest in equality in access to and participation in all levels of education and the proposal to achieve greater income equality.

Fr Healy said there was major work to be done in making Ireland a more equal society. "Irish society is deeply divided; we have a two tier society in education and healthcare." He added that one in seven Irish people live in a household at risk of poverty.

On the challenges facing the country he said: "Much what is being promoted by government is taking us in the wrong direction and is going to deepen our problems, in both the economic and the social spheres."

When asked about the future of the COF movement and the future of Ireland Fr Healy said he was optimistic, despite the difficulties ahead. He said Irish people have learned a hard lesson and the experience of the last few years will mark the approach to the economy and to society generally for the next few decades.

He said that COF presents an alternative route that is both viable and sustainable and that the movement has a serious role to play in shaping a fairer future and building of a more equal society.