Reforming Ireland

Greater transparency is a vital step in national renewal, writes Lucinda Creighton

My colleagues and I recently announced that we are hosting a public reform conference in the RDS concert hall on January 25. The objective of this conference is very simple and focussed on three specific areas: political, economic and healthcare reform. Our aim is to create a forum for a bottom up debate on the issues that matter and affect people’s daily lives. Despite some of the media depictions drawing parallels to Daniel O’Connell’s famous ‘Monster Meetings’, or that this is an Ard Fheis style meeting precipitating the launch of a new party, neither of these representations are accurate.

The seven members of the Reform Alliance, Denis Naughten TD, Billy Timmins TD, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, Terence Flanagan TD, Peter Mathews TD and Senator Paul Bradford and me are sponsoring the conference, but it is the audience and the panel participants who will be playing the starring roles.

Open forum

So for my colleagues and I in the Reform Alliance, the first step is to try and reach out to the Irish people who have something to say and show them that their ideas and experience are not just welcome, but necessary. We hope that the reform conference will be a first step in that process. We have asked attendees to come up with suggestions, to send them to us in writing and to share them with us on January 25 either on our website at or by post to Lucinda Creighton, Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. This will be an open forum, where everyone is welcome and where we are genuinely interested in hearing good ideas that can help get Ireland back on track.

As I write this column, over 500 people have registered to attend on January 25 from a cross spectrum of people on the island of Ireland. This is not a meeting for one ideological view or religious ethos; it is a meeting to advance multiple reforms in the areas that are much needed.

For example, Stephen Collins in his recent column in The Irish Times stated that the “two political parties in Government are united behind a plan to deal with the economic problem” and that the “country will continue on the road to recovery”. It is not disingenuous to suggest that Fine Gael and the Labour Party are united in a plan to deal with the economic problem? The Labour Party believes introducing mandatory unionised collective bargaining for all employers through trade unions is a recipe for wage inflation and in their view, economic growth. In Ireland, currently just 24% of the labour force is made up of trade union members.


Since the Government took office in March 2011 an additional 37,300 full time employees have been created. Almost 20,000 of these jobs have been created in professional, scientific and technical activities or in the information, communication and technology industries. Both of these areas are dominated by the foreign multinational investment sectors, and both are dominated by export businesses whose workers are unrepresented by the trade union movement. The fact that over 90% of all new jobs in Ireland have been created by employers that do not have trade unions or a mandatory unionised collective bargaining is not relevant to a Labour Party that seeks to shore up its core support and its affiliated union membership.

While every week there is a new announcement about 30 jobs here or 40 jobs there from foreign multinationals in Ireland, and this is undoubtedly a great signal of improvement in the Irish economy, a little known fact is that foreign multinational employees account for just 10% of the labour force. Small and medium enterprises in Ireland, depending on how you define a SME, comprises between 60% and 70% of the labour force. These SME’s do not form part of the Labour Party’s economic vision for recovery.

Labour costs

Before 2009, according to Forfás, the State’s independent competitiveness agency, higher annual increases in unit labour costs were recorded in Ireland than in the entire EU and Eurozone area. Yet in 2011 and 2012 Ireland’s unit labour cost continued to fall while there was an increase in Euro area unit labour cost. It is no coincidence that in the background of increased competitiveness, Enterprise Ireland recently recorded their highest number of job increases in 10 years. Enterprise Ireland is solely tasked with supporting indigenous Irish businesses that export into the global economy. Exports are what ensured Ireland did not become Greece when the peak of the crisis hit, and exports are what have kept investment in Ireland and allowed Ireland to exit the bailout and borrow on the international markets.

It is precisely these exporting businesses that are the only sustainable recovery mechanism for Ireland that will be damaged if the Labour Party has their way in increasing wages for 25% of the labour force, and then introducing mandatory unionised collective bargaining rules for 100% of the labour force. The people who will suffer the most are the 300,000 people looking for work and young people forced to emigrate because employers are no longer creating jobs as competitiveness starts to diminish.

Property market

The Taoiseach has determined that job creation will be fuelled by reheating the property market. Of course, there is no question that in certain areas of Ireland, there is an under-supply of family homes and there is some land that could be developed to facilitate that demand. However that can’t be the singular economic vision of the country. We have seen the devastating effect of pursuing an unsustainable policy like this in the past, and all it does is uproot and damage the good things in our economy like small businesses and exporting businesses.

We need more SME’s exporting more goods and we need to do more to up skill our unemployed to ensure that when a small business owner wants to grow their operations, they have the correct labour supply to fill their growing needs.


Irish people are inherently generous, and have a great sense of solidarity that we should be proud of. Often times, however, leaders whether it is in trade union leadership, politics or business seek to exploit that solidarity for their own personal gain or self-preservation rather than the common good.

Ordinary voters are rarely consulted on the issues that affect them. Their voices are rarely heard when it comes to devising national programmes or policy agendas. This is a great pity, because in my experience ordinary Irish people have a deep interest in the future of the country.

They have practical experience and advice, which they would like to feed into the system, but they don’t know how. They do not feel welcome in political debate and as a result they lose interest in the whole system, not least because it appears so dominated by inner circles and cronyism of the worst kind. Sadly they are not far wrong.

Unless greater public transparency is brought to bear on the decisions underpinning these leaders' visions, genuine reform that is truly in everyone’s interest cannot be achieved. We in the Reform Alliance hope this conference on January 25 can be the beginning of a national conversation of what kind of Ireland the Irish people want to have and want to work in as our economic sovereignty is regained.