Conference call for papers and advance notice

University College Cork, March 28th 2014

Since 2008 Irish society and the Irish welfare state have undergone enormous upheaval and change.  Poverty, unemployment, inequality and related social problems have all increased.   Significant areas of the welfare state are being re-shaped with considerable implications for how social policies are designed and delivered and for their effects. The pace and nature of reform has been substantially altered with the demise of social partnership and three years of policy making under the Troika. Yet this crisis has also instigated campaigns of resistance and alternative proposals to Ireland’s existing welfare and economic model. This conference aims to take stock of these developments and we invite papers that explore any of these and related themes.  Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The politics of Irish welfare reform – retrenchment, restructuring, resilience, resistance.
  • The impact of welfare state change on particular social groups – unemployed people, migrants, young people, children, families, older people etc.
  • The effect of change on particular areas of social policy – social protection, education, health, housing, etc.
  • Shifting approaches to welfare policy: modernisation, redistribution, privatisation, activation, social investment etc.
  • Resistance, critique and alternatives to austerity.
  • Voluntary and community groups in the crisis and its aftermath.
  • Crisis and contemporary welfare states, Ireland in a European/comparative context.
  • Irish welfare state futures, challenges, prospects.

We warmly welcome papers from academics, post-graduate students, voluntary organisations, and community and policy advocacy groups.  The abstract deadline is January 31st 2014. For details on how to submit an abstract please visit: www.irishwelfarestateconf.com

The full conference programme will be available at www.irishwelfarestateconf.com by the end of February.

Attendance at the conference is free but registration is required.  To register please e mail socialpolicyconf@ucc.ie to confirm your attendance.

Fiona Dukelow

Late last week, I attended an interesting talk in which the ‘moral compass’ of planners – and local authorities as a whole – was questioned.  During the ensuing discussion, an enthusiastic debate played out as to whether planners are to blame for ‘allowing’ the overbuild that characterises every county in the Republic of Ireland.  As a planner, I agree that, yes, we have to take a certain degree of responsibility for the state of the (blighted) landscape in which we find ourselves living —- I emphasise a ‘certain degree’ given that the role of the planning system as a whole has been little considered or unpacked, as argued by the NIRSA report A Haunted Landscape — but I cannot accept that as a profession, we have lost our moral compass.

At the heart of our planning education lies the concepts of the common good, community, social justice and the accommodation of people in place (not just in terms of housing but also in respect of access to services, mobility, leisure and recreation, to name but a few).  What transpires in practice does not usually live up to the aspirations of planning educators or  graduates – the reality is that local government is too ill-equipped to thoroughly address all aspects of planning and the focus rests on short-termism and politics – two pillars of poor planning.  And, of course, what people are taught and what they then actually do are two different things.  One factor at play in this regard, for example, is where the planner ends up working; the working ethos of a planner in local government will inevitably be different to that of a planner working for a consultancy or developer.  And where a planner first worked for local government and then went to work for a developer – as happened quite frequently during the ‘boom years’ – it would be inevitable that their moral compass becomes recalibrated, possibly even dormant; but not lost.

The problem, as I see it, is that the planning profession has lost not only its voice but also its authority and power in the process of decision-making.  Within the workplace, and I refer specifically to local government here, planners are no longer taken as seriously as they might with their role in the planning and development process relatively diminished; an outcome of the politicalisation of planning.  Planners’ recommendations can be disregarded at the whim of senior officers and/or elected officials.  Too often, I have heard stories from colleagues working in local government of occasions where they have been told to say nothing – by their Directors of Service or County Manager – at either council meetings or discussions with developers on proposed applications.  That the voice of an expert in their field can be so blatantly taken away – instead of encouraged and embraced in the interests of the community to which a proposal may relate and the wider common good of the county and region to which it belongs – is a true failing of the local government system as it is currently structured.

The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 finally gives play to the hierarchy of plans that was proposed under the Planning and Development Act 2000 – namely, the National Spatial Strategy (NSS), the Regional Planning Guidelines (RPGs), County and City Development Plans, and finally, Local Area Plans.  But what is the point of having this hierarchy in place if the views and recommendations of the planners who are the drafters of these documents (containing a mixture of policies and maps) – with their multidisciplinary perspectives (geographers, sociologists, environmentalists, conservationists, economists, psychologists) – can be so easily ignored?

The solution?  Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the recommendations of planners when it comes to determining planning applications and preparing development plans.  To this end, it should not be as easy, as is currently the case, for officials – elected or otherwise – to override the recommendations put forward by planners. And yet, while this is part of the democratic mandate of councillors – to speak for the communities they represent – the resulting practices are unreflective of democratic principles.  It is clear that change is required to the current status quo in decision-making – but, in the case of the reserved function role of elected officials, there appears to be little appetite for reform.  But were that appetite in place, changes that should be considered, so as to strengthen the democratic principles of planning, include:

  • Elected officials should have to undertake an accredited course in understanding the planning system prior to being able to engage in any debate on a planning-related topic (whether planning application or development plan); and with any change in the legislation, all councillors should have to attend an ‘expert’ seminar on the implications of the new law;
  • Where elected officials work as estate agents, auctioneers or in other fields related to the planning field, they should be prevented from contributing to debates on planning applications or zonings to avoid clear conflicts of interest;
  • Directors of Service with responsibility for planning should have a background in the planning system; in this way, they would then better understand the decisions of planners and the reasonings behind these standings / recommendations (and while the brief of Directors of Service increasingly tend to extend beyond planning only – also covering for example, community and enterprise, or infrastructure, for example – the multidisciplinary nature of planning ensures that a director with a planning background could equally, and fairly, administer these other functions).  You wouldn’t after all have a nurse head up an accountancy firm or an engineer run a hospital ward?

There are many faults with the local government structure as it currently stands; but care needs to be exercised when confusing these short-falls (even failings) with a loss of morality among the local authority planning profession.  The planning system is complex and planners are often the foot soldiers not the generals.

Caroline Creamer

IBEC have been up to their usual public sector bashing calling for radical reform that cuts costs and boosts efficiency, productivity and flexibility. Perhaps its time for IBEC to look in the mirror at how some of its members have milked the public purse and seek suitable reforms?  There has been, and continues to be, a huge chunk of public purse finance spent hiring the private sector, a huge chunk of which has been squandered – think of the huge overspend on public infrastructure projects, or the massive fees paid to consultants for often quite shoddy pieces of work, or the PPP contracts that funneled huge guaranteed funds to the private companies over long periods of time.  And, just as there is excellent work undertaken in both the public and private sectors, there are slackers, jobsworths and inefficiencies in both.  We’ve all experienced poor service across the service sector; this is not something unique to the public sector.  The private sector would clearly like public sector work to be transferred to them, where it will be supposedly dealt with more efficiently and cost effectively (and certainly more profitably for those companies who would benefit).  There is clearly a wider debate needed here about whether we want vital public services privatised, and under what terms, but in the meantime perhaps IBEC should look at itself, its agenda, and the way its members have been milking the public purse during the Celtic Tiger period whilst it pushes its neoliberal agenda.  Any talk about reform of the public sector should be accompanied by significant reform of private sector contracts driven by an agenda of openness, transparency, good governance, and most importantly value for money.  It’s pretty difficult to believe that we were getting value for money during the boom.  It wasn’t called Rip-Off Ireland for nothing.  The mirror’s this way …