Lorcan Sirr and Conor Skehan of DIT have recently argued that the present budgetary cuts are being made in the absence of a plan.  It is difficult to disagree with their argument.  Unfortunately all of the political parties seem to proceeding on the same basis.  Making budget cuts is not the same as making a plan.  A budget should be designed to support a plan.  In Ireland’s case slashing the budget is seemingly the plan and supports no strategic initiatives other than to hopefully cut the deficit.  What should be happening is a rapid reworking of the National Development Plan – linking up sectoral and spatial plans – to produce a reasonably coherent pathway to 2014, with a realignment of budgets to support that plan.  At least that would mean that what spending and investment remains has some strategic goals and there is a roadmap as to how Ireland is to proceed back out of the crisis it has created for itself.

So far, no political party has produced a master plan, with an associated budget, for addressing our multiple problems.  No-one has come up with a coherent set of interlinked policy initiatives that if followed will stabilise the economy and get it working again, addressing in particular the issue of job creation.  The starting point is always the size of the cuts to be made, not what kind of Ireland do we want in 2014 and how can we achieve that goal whilst making cuts.  What we have instead is soundbites, ad hoc responses, wish-list so-called strategy documents with no plans of implementation, milestones or planned financial investment, and no sense that there is a captain at the helm who has a decent map and an organised crew to first get the ship seaworthy or second to know where it is sailing to.  The idea at the minute seems to be to get the wreck across the ocean without hopefully sinking and be damned where we land.  All the time, over half the passengers are haranguing the crew whilst putting forward no coherent set of alternative measures.

The opposition parties at this stage need to set out their stall clearly.  To date they have hidden behind the excuse that they do not want to set out their approach without seeing the budgetary figures.  This is simply a delaying tactic.  The budget should not be driving their plan.  Vision and sound policy initiatives should.  They can tweak the plan in relation to the budget available.  But the plan has to be more than a budget.  They should come up with the plan and see if they can finance it, not vice versa.  If they really feel that they should be running the country then they should have the confidence in their ideas to set them out and argue for them.  By failing to do so, we are just prolonging the political charade and reinforcing the adhocism of Irish politics and policy making.

Regardless of political party, can we at least start the next four years on the right footing?  If all we are doing is slashing and burning with little rhyme or reason, with no sense of its long term implications or how what is left will deliver the ship and course we need, then in four years time we’re going to be in a far worse state than we are now, because we’ll have positioned ourselves in the wrong place, most probably without the apparatus to get ourselves back on course.

Can we have a four year plan please, not simply a four year budget?

Rob Kitchin