Our Policies A to Z
Agriculture and Forestry
Grow Agriculture and Forestry
The Social Democrats understand that Agriculture and the Agri-Food sector must be supported as a key indigenous industry, a major employer and one of our biggest exporters. We recognise that the strength of the industry lies in targeting that support to the small and medium farmers whose incomes have been in decline in recent years. Ireland must take steps to protect their work and produce, and to market that high quality brand overseas. At the same time, we should be encouraging farmers to take advantage of new opportunities for income generation. Climate change and extreme weather events present as serious a threat to farmers’ livelihoods as everyone else, perhaps more. By encouraging new farm practices such as biomass and renewable electricity generation, we can allow for new income supports to farmers as well as tackling harmful emissions. Our plan includes:
- In a very competitive market, we understand the strength of Irish produce lies in its clean, high quality brand. We will take steps to protect and strongly trade from this brand, through a new green certification process. This label will apply to all Irish agricultural products that have reached the standard and will be strongly marketed abroad.
- We will enhance the continued viability of the family farm by encouraging greater participation in agricultural co-operatives, thereby achieving more efficient uses of resources, allowing for larger-scale capital investment and better equipping farmers to compete.
- We will tackle the increasing threats to the incomes of small scale family farms by providing supports for farmers who wish to increase the microgenerating capacity of their farms through small-scale wind, solar and other forms of clean energy generation. We will also encourage wide scale participation in the GLAS scheme.
- We will provide extra incentive for the planting of trees for both longer-term carbon sequestration, and for the development of sustainable wood products and biomass.
- We will work to enhance the tourism and amenity potential of our forested land.
- We will continue other existing supports for afforestation, and will work to develop ambitious targets to 2030 for woodland coverage, including a vital concurrent target for Woodland Conservation and Sequestration.
Animal Welfare – Outline Policy
The Social Democrats strongly advocate animal rights, and recognise animals as intelligent, sentient beings capable of complex thought and of experiencing pain and suffering. As a guiding principle, we believe that the State should strive to ensure that animals
- Live lives free of pain and discomfort in so far as that is possible
- Are strongly protected from cruelty, neglect and abandonment
- Live a “life worth living,” even within the context of food production
While acknowledging the historical, cultural and economic significance of farming in Ireland, the Social Democrats are eager to maintain the relatively high standard of animal welfare that exists within the majority of the Irish farming industry. Economic and commercial pressures have contributed to a global drift towards intensive systems of farming, so-called ‘factory farming’, which often subjects animals to extreme pain and suffering. Our goal is to ensure that these practices do not become common in Ireland, and to stop these practices where they are already in place.
The Social Democrats are making the following commitments in relation to animal welfare and rights:
- In the current Dáil, we have voted in support of the Animal Protection Bill, 2016 which sought to ban the use of live hares in hare-coursing. We have also expressed our support for the Prohibition of Wild Animals in Circuses Bill. We will maintain support for these Bills and seek to improve them where possible.
- We will maintain our position against fox-hunting and fur-farming.
- We favour the banning of live exports of animals to countries that have poor animal welfare protections, and the raising and enforcement of standards in relation to long journeys and animal transport vessels.
- We will improve animal welfare standards as they apply to farming practices in Ireland, including pigs, sheep, cattle and chickens.
- We are in favour of harsher penalties for animal cruelty.
- We would ban all experiments on animals that are not related to genuine medical research.
- We would improve resources to boost enforcement of animal welfare laws.
- We would improve resources for TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return) services.
- We would ensure that all zoos report animal welfare incidents, including deaths, on an annual basis.
- We would seek to progress higher targets for the chipping of cats, dogs, and equine animals.
- We will push for a full review of our dog-breeding legislation as recent research from NUI Galway has shown that Irish legislation is decades behind other jurisdictions. The current legislation controlling so-called “dangerous breeds” gives people a false perception that other breeds are not prone to aggression. We need a complete overhaul of this legislation so that is based on evidence and places far more responsibility on owners of all breeds of dogs.
Our Local Election Manifesto 2019 commits us to sustaining the recent decline in the number of dogs euthanized by Local Authorities. This has fallen by over half in recent years. However some counties continue to have high rates, including Kerry, Tipperary and Wexford. Our local representatives will be working towards bringing down these rates across all counties with a clear priority of finding homes for dogs.
Meanwhile, we remain very concerned that some of the standards at our publicly-funded dog-pounds are not at the required level. We will seek to put new standards in place, to improve the regularity and stringency of welfare inspections, to insist on mandatory transparency of conditions in pounds to members of the public, and overall to ensure high standards for dogs that are in the care of the local authority or those contracted to them.
We are also seeking a commitment from each local authority to adopt a dog-walking strategy that will seek to balance the interests of dog-owners, dogs and other parks users.
You can download this document here
Note: The Social Democrats have a policy group that is currently updating our policy on Animal Rights.
- A binding agent in our communities both rural and urban, an important forum for the formation of our national identity and for holding our democracy to account and an indispensable resource for the effective functioning of our society as a whole.
- Key to our continued success in attracting foreign direct investment and especially as we move towards changing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) into STEAM in the “smart” economy and an expanding technology sector.
- A potential cornerstone of a stronger, more equal economic recovery.
- A central component in our current and future success in the all-important tourism sector. 87% of overseas visitors listed Ireland’s “Interesting history and culture” as key to their decision to visit Ireland in 2014.
- Key to the success of the Irish film industry, with further potential for the growth of film studios.
How we drive success
Success for the arts in Ireland will be dependent on the level of joined-up thinking and collaboration across government departments, state bodies and arts organisations/practitioners. Post review, liaison between the department for the arts and communications and the departments of social welfare, tourism and education will be of particular importance.
Before any investment or restructuring is done, a full review of arts funding and administration as well as consultation with stakeholders across the arts sector on the successes and failures of our current system is required. This review would incorporate research into equality in the arts sector, the life of artists in Ireland today, funding practices and administrative processes as well as the relationship and need for enhanced collaboration between the arts and areas such as education, tourism and the social welfare system.
- Formation of a new advisory body of arts practitioners and administrators to reflect the importance of a “bottom up” approach to decision-making and policy formation which includes input from the entire arts sector.
- Establishment of a new Department for the Arts, Culture and Communications tasked with using its cross-sectoral competencies to foster and platform new Irish creative talent across traditional and digital media. Engendering symbiosis between the state broadcaster and the creative sector is a key concern of this initiative.
- Establishing a digital broadcasting unit within RTÉ tasked with delivering Irish film, television and arts programming to a wider domestic and international audience.
- Progressive restoration of total arts funding to pre-crash levels.
- Establishment of special commercial rates for creative/arts spaces as well as “rates holidays” for new projects.
- Reconvene the expert group to recommend a solution to the barrier of the commercial rates regime, as applied to film studios
- Expansion of tax break for lower income artists to include a wider range of arts practitioners beyond the current narrow limitations.
- New program of grants, bursaries and other investments in working artists via the social welfare system to allow time for skill development and work on large projects.
- Enhanced investment in arts education in recognition of its unique, proven ability to raise performance standards across the board and improve dropout rates and engagement with education for disadvantaged students in particular. The aim over the lifetime of the next government, would be universal access to arts education at both primary and secondary levels.
- It is no longer good enough that diversity of all kinds is not a default concern of arts programming and administration in this state. The Social Democrats wholeheartedly support the Waking the Feminists movement and are committed to ensuring that state-funded arts organisations and programs lead the way in advancing equality and diversity in Irish society.
A good start for all children
As parents we put our children first. Yet when it comes to Government investment, children are always last in line. This is why we have one of the most undeveloped childcare systems in the EU. It is why our pre-school services are so under-funded when compared with other developed countries. And it is why parents must still pay significant contributions for early years care and education. Our children deserve a much better start in life and there is much evidence to suggest that if they get this, our economy and society will reap the rewards in the long run. The Social Democrats want to put children first by starting a multi-year programme of investment for children’s services, especially for very young children. This programme would invest in the child’s early years by ensuring parents have the choice to stay at home in the first precious year of their child’s life through extended paid parental leave arrangements, and more flexible work options for parents. It would also help develop more affordable and higher quality childcare. Furthermore, it would also provide a significant boost to enterprise by giving many parents the choice of returning to work.
Our plan for childcare
The Social Democrats would prioritise the following policies:
- Extending paid parental leave (counting maternity benefit) to 36 weeks initially and to 52 weeks over three budgets.
- We would supplement this with legislation to guarantee flexible work options for parents;
Significantly improving childcare through a range of measures including:
- Investing in quality of service provision via higher capitation payments to childcare providers, and linking funding to increased quality.
- Setting maximum fees for parents for childcare, ensuring public funding does not simply push up prices, and enabling all families to benefit, with higher quality incentivised;
- Extending subsidised childcare places to lower-income families in all areas, through extension and reform of the Community Childcare Subvention;
- Investing in educational supports for childcare workers;
- Carrying out a full economic review of the cost of childcare based on quality standards, implementation of national curricula, and the introduction of a proper career structure for staff.
For more details of how we would give all children the best start in life, see our Plan for Children page.
Our plan to end child poverty
A summary of our priorities in this area are as follows:
- Set official all-of-Government target of ending Consistent Child Poverty by 2021 – led by An Taoiseach;
- Within 6 months develop a New Anti-Poverty Strategy, with clear targets, timeframes and lines of responsibility, and with families as a key focus;
- Replicate targeted area-based investment similar to the Young Ballymun programme in other disadvantaged areas to allow larger numbers of children to benefit from a programme with proven success in improving learning and well-being outcomes;
- Provide free primary education to cover the costs of transport, books and classroom resources;
- Subsidise childcare services for low income families and in disadvantaged areas, with some funding to make childcare more affordable where services are not viable. (see further childcare proposals in childcare section);
- Invest heavily in early years supports such as speech and language, early childhood health clinics, parental leave, social work, childcare & public health nursing;
- Extend the school meals programme on a priority basis to ensure that all children have access to nutritious food;
- Increase spending on early years up to the OECD average;
- Implement a range of programmes and initiatives of support to parents in the critical 0-3 stage of development, focusing on parental well-being and early infant development;
- Poverty-proof all budgets and set against the targets of the new Anti-Poverty Strategy.
Find out more on our proposals to End Child Poverty.
• Reforming our present climate-action regime to make it more robust, dependable and successful, by including: specifc domestic targets on emissions reduction and fossil fuel use, taking due regard of our emissions profle; comprehensive, attainable mitigation action plans with regular reviews and mandatory corrective measures; enhancements to the powers and functions of the Climate Change Advisory Council. • Ensuring that Ireland is a world leader internationally on tackling harmful emissions, and that our negotiating position at EU level refects the urgency with which action is required on climate change. • Ensuring that emissions reduction targets are applied appropriately to all non-Emissions Trading Scheme sectors of economic life in the State. • Funding technical assistance to aid organisations develop carbon mitigation programmes. • Encouraging greater take-up of proven methods of carbon sequestration – chiefly forestry and wetlands.
Why we need an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency
Ireland does not have an effective means of preventing, detecting and prosecuting corruption and white collar crime. Watch as Catherine Murphy TD sets out our plan for greater transparency and accountability in politics and public life.
Why we need a community banking sector
There has never been a greater need and demand for full-service community banking in Ireland. Post-recession, many people would rather bank with publicly-owned, or community owned, institutions. Across the country, households and small businesses are finding it difficult to secure loans, including for mortgages and business investment. A report outlining the opportunities for local banking, done in consultation with Irish Rural Link, points out that ‘improved access to finance will be vital for a continuous economic recovery and development – especially for the local Irish SME sector and the local population across the country.’ The Social Democrats agree. Ireland has about 380 credit unions and over 1,100 post offices across the country, giving them a physical presence in towns and villages in every county. We propose an ambitious project where the State and Central Bank of Ireland would work with both networks to build a strong community banking sector in Ireland. This would result in credit union and post office customers having full current account facilities, including debit cards and online banking. Enhanced loan facilities would be provided by credit unions (on an opt-in basis by branch). In addition, we propose a feasibility study for post office branches to offer enhanced services, potentially via the broker model used by the Royal Mail in the UK. The proposal would have numerous benefits, including:
- Access to financial services in smaller towns and villages;
- Increased access to credit for local businesses and the self-employed, including the c.€8bn of credit union deposits which are currently unused;
- Local savings being available for local investment;
- The choice to bank with publicly-owned institutions;
- Profits reinvested locally and distributed to members;
- Increased sustainability for credit unions, and in particular for post offices, which are under sustained financial pressure.
As part of the project, the Social Democrats propose:
Enhanced services for credit unions, to include:
- Provision of full current accounts for personal and small business banking, including debit cards that can be used on the full national and international ATM network;
- Provision of mortgage lending, with expertise and financial aggregation of risk provided at a county and/or regional basis;
- Provision of online banking and associated services including electronic payments;
- Support for on-going development of lending expertise, in particular with regard to mortgages and business lending;
- Support for all corporate governance changes required to ensure compliant oversight of new financial activity;
- Increased savings limit beyond €100k for credit union customers;
- Wider investment options for credit union deposits than current options (limited mainly to government bonds, bank bonds and cash deposits);
- Feasibility study to see if credit unions could become conduits for small savings loans underwritten by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, as per the model currently used in the retail banks.
Enhanced services for post offices, to include:
- Provision of full current accounts, as per the credit unions;
- Provision of online banking, as per the credit unions;
- Feasibility study to see if post offices could become brokers for wider banking services, including lending, as per Royal Mail model in the UK.
Corruption - Anti-Corruption Agency
Why we need an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency
Ireland does not have an effective means of preventing, detecting, and prosecuting corruption and white collar crime. Various Tribunals and Commissions of Inquiry have come and gone with few consequences for corrupt and reckless behaviour. Anti-corruption law is spread across a multitude of legislation, and responsibility for preventing and prosecuting corruption is spread across a multitude of agencies. The Social Democrats have a plan to tackle white collar crime and corruption and we believe this can improve accountability, end cronyism, and restore confidence in public life.
The Social Democrats’ proposals are:
- Establish a new law enforcement body, an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency (IACA), to tackle white collar crime and corruption in the corporate world and political spheres;
- The IACA would act as a standing Commission of Investigation and would end the need for expensive and ineffective Tribunals of Inquiry;
- The IACA would initially assume some/all of the remit of a number of existing bodies including the Standards in Public Office Commission; the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; the Registrar of Lobbyists and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. It would act as an advisory body to several other public bodies;
- The IACA would have a monitoring and investigative role over public procurement activities, and would be able to conduct sectoral reviews and initiate investigations as it saw fit;
- Establish a new Dáil oversight committee, called the Public Interest Committee, to oversee IACA and Ministerial resource allocation decisions;
- Update anti-corruption legislation, to include, among other things, minimum standards for eligibility to hold public office.
- Find out more on our Anti-Corruption proposals here.
Want to read our full proposal for an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency? You can do so here.
Cost of Living
Why the Cost of Living
The cost of living in Ireland is too high. The lack of investment in public services means that services that the public can rely on in other countries, such as healthcare, transport, and childcare, must be paid for privately here. The lack of protection for consumers means that many of us pay very high bills for basic services such as utilities, waste, insurance and broadband. And, of course, we are living in the middle of yet another housing emergency where tens of thousands of people simply can’t afford a home.
These costs make Ireland one of the most expensive places in the world in which to live. They add significantly to the cost base of the economy and undermine competitiveness. They make it harder to attract sustainable jobs and businesses. The Social Democrats are committed to tackling these high costs and charges faced every day by families.
We want to drive down the costs of basic family bills and ensure that every arm of Government is playing its part in making this happen.
Download our policy Cutting the Cost of Living.
Promoting Competition, Consumer Rights and Strong Regulation
- We would promote better competition by ensuring that all major consumer-focused companies, including those engaged in insurance, grocery chains, energy, broadband, waste disposal etc must publish details of the beneficial owner of the company and publish the full accounts of their Irish operations.
- It is not in the public interest or good competition that such details are hidden from the public, policy-makers and competitors. We would confer new market investigation powers on our proposed Independent Anti-Corruption Agency to do whole-market investigations. This would ensure that competition is working to drive down consumer prices.
- We would give powers to market regulators such as the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and the Central Bank to refer their industries for wholemarket investigations, as in the UK. We would encourage a far more aggressive approach by regulators to ensure that more people can avail of discounted offers from utility companies, broadband, telephone, mortgage providers, waste etc, and that vulnerable customers, in particular, are protected.
- We would ensure that double-charging is eradicated and that switching between providers is made simple and transparent for consumers. We would establish a dedicated regulator for the waste industry with a particular focus on affordable pricing in the sector.
Reducing Healthcare Costs
Through the roll-out of the Sláintecare health reform programme, the Social Democrats want to significantly bring down healthcare costs, such as the cost of insurance, dental visits, GP visits, hospital charges, and prescription charges. Through reform, we want to bring down the cost of medication so that it is similar to levels in other countries.
In line with Sláintecare reforms, we would reduce the Prescription Charge from €2.50 to €1.50 as part of a phased reduction in the charge.
Free GP Care
Also in line with Sláintecare, we would set aside funding to provide for an extension of free GP care to the whole population over the next five years.
Reduce Dental Charges
We would begin the reinstatement of the Dental Treatment Service Scheme which would provide assistance with the cost of fillings, extractions, root canal treatments, gum-cleaning, X-rays and denture work.
Cutting Household Utility Bills
Irish households pays some of the highest electricity costs in the western world. Hundreds of thousands of electricity and gas customers are not availing of the best offers for their household circumstances. The Social Democrats want to drive down the cost of electricity and gas bills by setting a far more aggressive approach for pricing and competition in the sector, by investing in a new national retrofitting scheme for households and small businesses, and by supporting the development of indigenous renewable energy.
Children and Childcare – Parental Leave
We would introduce paid parental leave so that all parents can spend the first year caring for their child. We would extend the right to unpaid parental leave to those parents who wish to avail of it (and thereby bring down childcare costs). Our Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 – currently going through the Oireachtas – will significantly extend the amount of unpaid leave that working parents can take, from the current four months to six months. These proposals are aimed at helping working parents achieve better work-life balance. Download our Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 here.
Early Years Payment
We would provide a new Early Years payment to cover children from their first birthday to entry to preschool. We would also improve direct funding to the childcare sector to help improve employment conditions and training and to improve sustainability. We would significantly improve support under the affordable childcare scheme. Parents would be given the choice of the Early Years payment or assistance under the affordable childcare scheme.
We would provide a new Early Years payment to cover children from 9 months until entry to preschool. This would be €50 per month per child. We would also improve direct funding to the childcare sector to help improve employment conditions and training and to improve sustainability. Parents would be given the choice of the Early Years payment or assistance under the affordable childcare scheme.
Reducing Transport Costs
Ireland has one of the lowest subsidies for public transport in the developed world and this is why public transport fares are so high. The Social Democrats would significantly boost subsidies for public transport so that fares can be reduced.
Lowering the cost of purchasing and renting a home
We will aggressively seek to bring down the cost of purchasing and renting a home. We would cap all rents regardless of location, and legislate to ensure that future rent increases are linked to the cost of living and no more. We would update laws to provide far greater tenure security. We would introduce a deposit protection scheme and new laws to limit the amount of deposit that can be demanded by landlords.
Despite reported falls in the cost of car insurance, it is still far too high. The Social Democrats would introduce far better settlement guidance for the judiciary to help reduce claims costs. We would end discrimination against drivers of older cars, improve non-litigation methods for claims settlement to reduce legal costs, take measures to tackle insurance fraud, and recruit extra gardaí to better enforce road traffic law.
We would legislate to ensure that future rent increases are linked to the cost of living and update laws to provide far greater tenure security. We would introduce a deposit protection scheme and new laws to limit the amount of deposit that can be demanded by landlords. We favour a change to Article 43 of the Constitution to better reflect the common good so that issues in relation to both private rented accommodation and upward only rent reviews on commercial property can be addressed.
Rent stamp duty
We would scrap the ridiculous stamp duty that applies to people sharing a house where the total rent is above €2,500 a month. We would introduce a new affordable housing scheme and establish a new national housing delivery body with a specific remit to use public lands to deliver tens of thousands of new homes for affordable purchase, social and affordable rental.
Better competition in mortgages
We would promote much better competition in mortgages so that Ireland’s very high variable rate mortgages are significantly reduced and it is far easier or consumers to switch.
Free Primary Education
We would invest €103m in education supports so that parents would save on the cost of school books, school transport costs, “voluntary contributions” etc and make primary school education truly free. We would also reduce third level fees and improve supports to students to ensure greater access.
Download our policy Cutting the Cost of Living.
Download our Budget 2019 Costings – Tackling the High Cost of Living
Crime and Policing
Our Plan to Tackle Crime and Support Policing
Morale within Garda Síochána has been described by many within the force as at an all- time low. This follows a number of scandals which led to high profile enquiries. Their findings included identifying massive systems failures in how crimes are recorded, managed and classified. Inadequate training and management leading to widespread gaps and inefficiencies were also found. The closure of stations, and new roster and pay arrangements, have also contributed to the morale problem. It is essential that the culture within the force changes to one where clear lines of accountability are established, a training and modernisation program is accelerated and the force receives the investment in the systems, equipment and personnel essential for a modern police force to do the job asked of it.
Phase in recommendations outlined in the Garda Inspectorate Report in conjunction with the All Party Justice Committee.
- Invest in modern IT systems – phase out the Pulse System;
- Develop new in-service training programs;
- Maximise the use of new systems to support investigation of crime and a more consistent approach to the recording/classification/detection of crimes;
- Design better accountability into every level of management;
- Implement new investigation management systems with inbuilt performance measurements;
- Deploy personnel based on crime statistics and demographic changes;
- Ensure that Gardaí deployments can support wide scale adoption of a Community Policing model;
- Review the new roster arrangements against crime investigation strategies;
- Introduce a work force planning program aimed at recruitment and upskilling;
The Social Democrats believe in an Ireland where high quality public services, strong communities and a thriving economy combine to create a society where everyone has a meaningful opportunity to reach their full potential.
Defence Forces Pay
Defence Forces Pay
The Social Democrats acknowledge that pay in our Defence Forces is too low and we are anxious to see pay-levels rise. We have raised the issue in the Dáil and will continue to raise it.
The Social Democrats recognise the special circumstances defence forces personnel find themselves in without union organisation rights, how this has resulted in the low-wage regime, and the impact this has had on retention and operational capacity.
We support new wage-setting structures for the defence forces and we would set aside extra funding to allow wages to be improved.
In our Alternative Budget for 2019, where we set out how a number of alternative measures could be afforded and introduced, we identified €60m “to start the process of addressing pay-equalisation for public sector workers hired on working terms inferior to their colleagues, and to tackle the very low wages in our Defence Forces.”
You can download our policy here
Empower People with Disabilities
Nowhere is our two-tier society more acutely felt than among people with disabilities. At the last Census count (2016), 13.5% or 643,131 people in Ireland had a disability. This group are at significantly greater risk than non-disabled people of experiencing poverty, social exclusion, unemployment and lack of opportunity for education, training and retraining. In 2006, the United Nations agreed on global action in the form of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ireland took a leadership position when it signed the Convention on the first day possible in 2007 but the State has regressed in the intervening years. In 2018 Ireland became the last EU country to ratify the UNCRPD. While this is welcome in itself and long over-due, it has had little effect yet on the actual lives of people with disabilities as so much of our national legislation remains out of sync with the Convention. In addition, the Government did not ratify the optional protocol to the Treaty. This protocol makes a huge difference to disability rights as without it the Government is not answerable to the UN nor subject to possible inquiries by it. Without the missing legislation and a means to enforce the rights within the Convention, it will mean that disability rights in Ireland will still depend on who is in Government and where we are in the economic cycle. Rights with such conditions are not really rights at all. This is a very short-sighted approach as well as being unjust. Long term problems are being stored up which will impact negatively both on individual lives and on public spending in the future, especially where disabled children and young people are affected. So the Social Democrats main objective in terms of Disability Policy is to have the UNCRPD and the protocol fully ratified and in force in Ireland This will mean:
- Signing the Optional Protocol
- Passing legislation including the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 and new legislation on the Deprivation of Liberty
- The full commencement of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 with the creation of a Decision Support Service (DSS) under the Mental Health Commission
- Having a clear action plan with budget lines and timelines for implementation, monitoring, reporting, enforcement and other follow up actions.
Other key priorities for the Social Democrats include:
- Improving personal assistant and other individualised social care services so that people with disabilities can live independently;
- Introducing a statutory right to Home Care;
- Ending barriers to disabled people entering or remaining within the paid work force such as inadequate educational provision, continuing benefit traps, discriminatory access rules and attitudes;
- Recognising the extra costs of living for disabled people and helping them to stay out of poverty through a specific cost of disability payment
- The full commencement of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 and the Irish Sign Language Act 2017
- Improving regulations and funding conditions so that access to buses, trains, taxis and housing is vastly improved for people with disabilities; Improve financial supports for disabled transport users and eliminate notice time for travelling for mobility-impaired customers who require assistance. Improve audio and visual alerts on transport services. Make our public and private transport system fully accessible – in terms of fleet, stops, platforms and other access points. Change tendering rules to encourage much greater availability of wheelchair accessible taxis.
- Vastly improving the number of and access to primary care health staff and rehabilitative staff as promised under Sláintecare
- Amending rules so that more people can qualify for Carers’ supports.
- Improving Road Traffic laws to ensure easier enforcement of parking rules for disabled parking bays
Improving Quality and Access in Education
Everybody, regardless of background or means, should get the best education possible. It is the single greatest driver of opportunity, quality of life, social equality and economic growth. Ireland should be a republic in which every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential – that can only happen with a well-funded and modern education system. Such a system should ensure that our early years professionals, teachers, principals, lecturers and professors are free to be the very best they can be. Resources must be targeted to where they are most needed, and every effort must be taken to ensure access at all levels across all socioeconomic backgrounds. Literacy is key to unlocking other areas of learning. It is simply unacceptable that 44% of pupils in the most disadvantaged primary schools perform at or below the lowest levels of reading proficiency. Parents play the most fundamental role in children’s learning and it is essential that they are given the supports they need to do this. Social Democrats would invest in the delivery, by schools, community organisations and others, of a range of programmes and initiatives to engage and support parents in their children’s learning and development. As a small country in an increasingly globalised and competitive world, our Ireland’s education system is our single greatest competitive advantage. And yet, funding to Ireland’s schools and colleges has been cut year-on-year – resources for teachers, schools and colleges have been slashed, and much-needed modernisation across the sector hasn’t happened. Let’s be clear – Ireland has a good education system by international standards. But the on-going lack of investment and modernisation means that many are being left behind, and that what’s been achieved is being put at risk. We must strive, instead, to have an education system that helps every child achieve their potential, one that competes with the best education systems on earth. The Social Democrats believe Higher Education is predominantly a public good, and our ambition is to provide universal equality of opportunity to a world-class, globally competitive third-level system. It’s clear that significant investment in Higher Education is required to address the chronic underfunding of recent years, significant demographic demand, and to maintain, protect and enhance quality. There are many policies that should be implemented in the next Dáil term and others that will take longer to bring to fruition. Listed here are what the Social Democrats believe should be the policy priorities in education for the next ten years.
Primary and Post Primary
- Steadily reducing primary school class sizes to the EU average of 20;
- Making primary education free by funding school books, schools transport and classroom resources;
- Restoring capitation grants for schools to 2010 levels;
- Ensuring resources are targeted to greatest need, including both areas of high economic disadvantage (as pursued by the DEIS programme) and the needs of disadvantaged students outside these areas;
- Investing in Special Needs Assistants, SNAs, including removal of cap, to ensure sufficient resource and provide continuous professional development for SNAs;
- Ensuring SEN students have access to education based on their needs;
- Connecting every school with fibre broadband and funding ICT hardware and software for education;
- Equipping teachers to help close the gap in literacy outcomes, and reinstating literacy and numeracy professional development services;
- Ensuring pluralism in schools, by ending the practice of children being refused a place in a school because of their parents’ belief system (see separate section on pluralism in education);
- Introducing curriculum to proactively develop children’s mental health and wellbeing in the classroom;
- Enhancing continuous professional development for teachers and principals;
- Re-establishing the role of career guidance councillors;
- Lifting the moratorium on the recruitment of Special Duties posts, allowing principals focus on school leadership;
- Introducing skills-based courses to include innovation, entrepreneurship, communications and critical thinking, together with required professional development for teachers.
- Capping and then reducing the Student Contribution Charge to the level of the Dutch system (€1.9-€2K) in the lifetime of the next Government;
- Reforming the maintenance grants scheme, to provide better tapering of supports;
- Investing in access programmes, building on existing successes, to ensure broad sociodemographic representation across the third level system;
- Restoring maintenance grants for postgraduate students;
- Progressively increase funding to achieve EU average funding levels;
- Improving the level of autonomy of colleges, together with accountability for results – a programme of modernisation that must be developed in partnership with the third level sector;
- Creating new apprenticeships and advanced qualifications.
Energy - Champion Clean Energy
Champion Clean Energy
Securing safe, clean and dependable energy sources is one of the most pressing challenges the State faces in the first half of this century. The Social Democrats recognise that fossil fuel based generation must eventually be phased out in its entirety and that this will form an essential part of Ireland’s overall climate strategy. Ireland has made important steps forward in the development of renewable capacity, but we still remain among the most fossil-fuel dependent nations in Europe. This must change.
Priorities for the Social Democrats include:
- Set a target to see Ireland as a leader among the 23 coastal EU Member States in developing and harnessing ocean energy, and recognise the great potential that exists there. We will increase funding for new and existing research and development tenders in ocean energy.
- Establish a new Offshore Wind Development Agency with a specific mandate to attract investment -aiding this task by simplifying the regulatory and foreshore regime for offshore wind with the aims of reducing investor risk, and providing a stable regulatory setup. We will also prioritise State support for offshore through the introduction of a limited Feed-In-Tariff, subject to EU State-Aid approval and determined through a competitive bidding process.
- Our approach to the development of large-scale onshore wind needs to be fundamentally rethought. In many areas large scale development proposals have been imposed on local communities. This needs to change. The Social Democrats recognise that we must place community and citizen concerns at the heart of the planning process. We will seek urgent publication of updated planning guidelines to ensure that adequate consideration is given to community concerns around scale, height, density, setback and other considerations.
- Ensure that, where possible, there is a rebalance in the ownership model of onshore wind projects towards local communities, looking to the Danish and German models of community ownership for inspiration. Under this approach, it is local communities who will benefit most and who will have the final say on the scale of any proposed new developments.
- Introduce legislation to effectively underpin the Aarhus Convention in Irish law to ensure access to information on the environment is readily available.
Fairer Funding for Local Authorities
Fair Funding for Local Authorities
The current system for allocating funding to Local Authorities is completely unfair. The system originates from the early 2000s, and aside from some tinkering, the basis on which Local Authorities are granted central funding has not substantially changed since then.
The failure to update the allocation system in line with population increases leaves many counties severely disadvantaged. Councils with high population growth are expected to provide the same services to a much higher population base without any material change to their funding arrangement to reflect the higher demands on them.
We believe the Government needs to go back to the drawing board and establish transparent funding procedures that are updated at every census and take into consideration a wide variety of needs and deficits, and crucially, places far greater emphasis on population changes.
Summary of Proposals
- The system of funding for Local Authorities is not fair, is out of date and seriously disadvantages Councils with high population growth. It needs to be completely over-hauled so that more weight is given to population
and so that Councils can respond to increasing demand in their areas.
- Far more of Local Property Tax should be spent in the area in which it is collected. The Department of Housing should go back to the drawing board and re-establish each Local Authorities’ true needs. These needs should be updated regularly to allow for demographic shifts, infrastructure deficits, and other changes. Critically, allocations need to be based on workforce planning so that the Councils with the lowest staffing levels per capita do not also lose significant amounts of LPT revenue.
- A “Transition Fund”, starting at €25m should be established to help those Councils who would lose out under new arrangements.
- A temporary central fund should be established to improve the collection of commercial rates in Councils with low collection rates so that these Councils can become self-sustaining and less reliant on central funds.
- A target of 97% collection rate should be set (in line with the collection rate of Local Property Tax). Part of the extra revenue raised should be used to reduce commercial rates.
Download our Fair Funding Proposals here [pdf]
Insurance costs for Business and Community Groups
5 steps towards more affordable insurance for Small Business and Community Groups
Affordable insurance is fundamental to the long term interests of our country.
High insurance premia add very significantly to the cost base of our economy. The higher they go, the higher they push up all other prices and drive up the cost of living. Businesses fail, local services cease operation, and communities can’t get insurance for events.
Ireland’s insurance costs are very high by international standards. At the same time there is very little competition in the public liability insurance sector with often only one or two insurers willing to quote for business.
As a result, play centres are closing down, expenses for sports clubs are escalating, adventure tourism and activity-based enterprises are feeling the pinch, and costs for all businesses with a significant public footfall are being driven up. Everyone, except vested interests, loses under the current system.
The Social Democrats want the following five steps taken immediately to help deal with this problem:
- Change the Book of Quantum
Ireland’s Court awards system, which is based on the current Book of Quantum, is not fit for purpose. Awards for minor injuries are far too high and far out of kilter with international norms. This feeds into very high insurance premia and a lack of competition. The current system bases awards on the value of previous awards so, under this system, as awards in Ireland for minor injuries have always been very high, they will continue to be very high.
The Social Democrats believe that the Book of Quantum should be recalibrated so that court awards are benchmarked against international evidence instead of simply Irish historical awards. This should help to significantly lower awards for minor injuries, help lower legal costs, create less of an incentive for fraudulent claims, bring Ireland into line with pay-outs in other countries, and, with better regulation, reduce premia.
Pass the Judicial Council Bill
A key part of updating the Book of Quantum is the passing of the Judicial Council Bill. This Bill should be prioritised for passage through the Oireachtas.
- Establish the Garda Fraud Unit
We have an unacceptable claims culture. We must strike a much better balance between protecting people from genuine negligence while not encouraging claims for every accident/incident that happens.
We cannot allow a minority of claimants who exaggerate or make up claims ruin businesses, drive up insurance premia, and deprive communities of vital services. We need a dedicated Garda Insurance Fraud unit to bring prosecutions against those who exaggerate or make outright false claims. People who are dishonest should expect to face the consequences.
Insurance regulation is yet another sector where the Central Bank performs poorly. Across the spectrum of insurance products, the Social Democrats are not satisfied that the Central Bank is sufficiently consumer-focussed in its approach. It does not collect enough basic data – particularly in relation to premia. And it is not active enough in relation to vulnerable customers, market concentration, and market volatility in relation to insurance.
It is safe to say that the public has also little confidence that reduced Court awards will actually result in reduced premia, and this is because there is little trust that our regulators are sufficiently active, equipped, or interested in the issue.
The Social Democrats want to see a new Oireachtas Committee established – a Consumer Affairs Committee, that would hold much more regular meetings with our Regulators to ensure that they are completely focussed on consumer interests across the full range of their activities. Regulators should expect to have to answer far more regularly for their actions or inaction. Such a Committee can play a valuable role in bringing about accountability and also highlighting where there are gaps in legislation or deficiencies in powers that are available to regulators.
- Promote Co-operative Insurance
The Social Democrats believe the State can do more to promote the concept of co-operative or group insurance. Strong models already exist in areas such as the social housing sector, and far more businesses, sport, or community groups could enjoy stable and affordable insurance cover if this was promoted.
How to Build an Irish NHS
We want to build an Irish National Health Service – a publicly funded health service that would be accessible to all, improve health outcomes and reduce the cost to deliver high quality healthcare. Watch Róisín Shortall TD explain how we would go about building the health system our people deserve.
The Social Democrats want to eliminate that stigma and create a culture that fosters a positive approach to mental well-being.
Decades of chronic under-resourcing and a lack of integration have hampered the effective development of mental health services in Ireland. This lack of appropriate services due to inadequate resource allocation has stigmatised people suffering with mental health issues and isolated them in terms of treatment choices.
Our Plan for Mental Health
The Social Democrats commit to delivering all aspects of the 2006 ‘Vision for Change’ strategy as a cornerstone of our mental health plan. Fully implemented, this strategy will not only be responsive to individuals suffering from mental health issues, but will also work to proactively equip people with basic tools to positively strengthen awareness of their own mental health and recognise when to seek help.
As with any medical condition, prevention is always better than cure. With regard to mental-health this poses a particular challenge as outmoded attitudes and cultural perceptions have contributed to a culture of silence. The Social Democrats want to change this.
- Early intervention is critical in addressing emerging mental health difficulties and we support the extension of successful infant mental health and well-being programmes where these are currently being provided on a pilot basis.
- As part of the ‘Driving Quality and Access in Education’ portion of our manifesto, we have committed to the introduction of a curriculum to proactively develop children’s mental health and well-being.
- In addition, the Social Democrats also recognise the importance for children of parental mental-health. To this end special focus will be given to vulnerable new parents in the allocation of resources, (this also forms part of the ‘early years’ portion of our manifesto.)
- As part of our plan for education we have committed to restoring guidance counsellors to all secondary schools. Building on this restoration, we will commit to developing a system whereby guidance counsellors are equipped with the skills to deliver classes on positive mental well-being in secondary schools.
- We support the aims of Connecting for Life; in particular we would seek to urgently address adolescent suicide by equipping teachers and guidance counsellors with best-practice training to be able to effectively identify and respond to children in need.
Suicide is one of the biggest killers in our community; it is not acceptable that people should have to wait for crisis intervention. The Social Democrats will work to ensure that in conjunction with pro-active efforts to improve mental well-being there are also dedicated mental health teams on call 24/7 in each hospital area.
Holistic and Inclusive Care
- Studies have shown that prescribed physical exercise, CBT, Mindfulness and other forms of treatment are at least as effective in treating depression and anxiety as SSRIs and other drugs. We will work to ensure that these options are offered to service users, empowering them to make choices about how they themselves want their treatment to develop.
- For too long the solution to mental health issues in Ireland was seen to be medication. While we recognise that medication plays a critical role in the treatment for many, too often GPs see this as the only treatment option in the absence of adequate talk and therapeutic services.
- We will further invest in community mental-health teams as part of our primary care policy and allied health professionals will form a core of this investment.
- The Social Democrats will work to fully resource and expand the Counselling in Primary Care service (CIPC) to ensure better access to properly accredited community based services that suit the needs of users.
- We will ring-fence specialised mental-health funding for the most ‘at-risk’ groups, including young parents, the Travelling Community, asylum seekers, the LGBTQ community and persons with physical and mental disabilities. •
- A core aspect of the Social Democrat mental health policy is to tackle the service distinction between addiction and mental health. Substance abuse and mental health issues often go hand in hand, and the first point of contact with a service provider for individuals with a dual-diagnosis should seek to tackle both issues in a holistic fashion. A study by the UK Dept. of Health, suggest that 75% of users of drug services and 85% of users of alcohol services experienced mental health problems. 44% of mental health service users reported drug use. (Weaver et al, 2002)5. The Social Democrats would realign the mental-health and addiction services of the HSE to tackle the intertwined issues of addiction and mental health in a complimentary fashion.
Specifically in relation to substance misuse issues The Social Democrats support:
- The early enactment of all sections of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
- The amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Act to address the widespread problem of the street trading and abuse of prescription drugs.
- The restoration of resources to the Garda Drug unit.
- A fundamental review of drug treatment services.
- An enhanced role for drug and alcohol task forces.
In line with our international obligations the Social Democrats is committed to enacting the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, along with its Optional Protocol. We also need legislation on patient advocacy, the regulation of community based counselling and therapy services and Advance Healthcare Directives.
Our Rent Certainty proposals are a key part of our plans to ensure that decent and affordable housing is available for all. See them here.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
We advocate a rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health
It’s time for a new perspective on sexual and reproductive health. The SocDems recognise that issues regarding sex, sexuality, and reproductive choices are very personal matters. We understand that individual views will differ, and we will always respect those differences. We support a rights-based approach to these issues. The World Health Organisation definition of Sexual and Reproductive Health can be defined under three broad headings:
- Responsible and satisfying sex life
- Reproductive Freedom – the freedom to decide if and when to procreate
- Safe Motherhood (attaining optimal maternal and new-born health)
The SocDems embrace and support these definitions and believe that promoting societal attitudes and behaviours based upon these definitions can help ensure a positive and healthy culture regarding issues of sexuality and reproduction.
For too long, issues of sex, relationships and reproductive choice have been either taboo or polarised. We believe that Irish citizens in the modern Republic are capable of having mature conversations which cultivate attitudes that allow for healthy sexual expression and associated reproductive choices. A modern Irish Republic must ensure that healthcare is offered to all citizens equally.
Repealing the Eighth Amendment
SocDems activists and representatives campaigned throughout the country to remove the 8th Amendment from the Constitution. We were delighted that the Irish people voted overwhelmingly in favour of repeal in a referendum in May 2018. This paved the way for the Eighth Amendment to be officially repealed in September 2018 when President Michael D Higgins signed the referendum bill into law.
Read our full Sexual and Reproductive Health policy.
A Holistic Vision for Smart Cities
Rapid urbanisation creates opportunities and challenges. A smart city policy can provide a framework to re-think Ireland’s urban centres to make life better for Irish citizens. It can help us to approach grand challenges such as environmental sustainability, the needs of an ageing population, and efficient transportation. We propose a holistic smart cities policy that aims to strengthen the infrastructure needed to inspire and promote multiple smart projects and initiatives. This vision involves policies for supporting a range of actors, investing in infrastructure, research and development, and leveraging finance. It brings together government, the private sector and academia, to seek ways to use technology to bring about better lives and greater business opportunities. This Irish smart cities policy builds on Irish strengths and seek to make Ireland outstanding in a global context. To make our vision a reality, we need to invest in infrastructure, education, smart governance, economic development.
Our priorities for achieving this include:
• Increasing connectivity, particularly in broadband rollout; • Piloting free city wifi networks; • Piloting an integrated, open-access, city-wide data sharing platform; • Establishing a network of ‘Smart City’ innovation hubs/centres throughout the country; • Educating users about the risks associated with data sharing and how to mitigate these; • Supporting national digital literacy programmes targeting marginalised groups and older people; • Updating national and local government’s information platforms; • Ensuring adequate copyright and IP legislation, within EU framework; • Enhancing the digital economy and society by maintaining and improving connectivity, use of internet, integration of digital tech, and digital public services; • Marketing Ireland’s cities as Smart Cities and locations to pilot smart city innovation; • Supporting tourism by ensuring Irish cities are easily accessible digitally, navigable, and have apps and Wi-fi to support this; • Ensuring suffcient data regulation to protect citizens’ rights; • Establishing a national Smart Cities Pilot Fund to improve city services; • Establishing a National Smart Cities Annual Awards to recognise innovation.
Comprehensive development of our public transport infrastructure is in Ireland’s vital social and economic interest.
However, historical investment in high capacity solutions like rail has been lacking; and big public transport projects are too often victim of short-term political considerations. While a high-quality road network is essential and requires investment to be delivered, this should not be at the expense of better capacity, cleaner and more efficient forms of public transport which can serve as viable alternatives to car-based travel. The Social Democrats believe that future population growth, particularly in our urban centres, must be adequately planned for today in terms of transport provision if we are to avoid unsustainable urban sprawl, disconnected communities and everincreasing car commutes. To do this we need to support a modal shift away from carbon intense, car- based transport towards highcapacity public transport options. We must also drastically reduce emissions in transport if we are to meet emissions reduction targets.
Our Transport Priorities
- Rebalancing of capital spending in public transport incrementally, ensuring capital spending on roads is at least matched by capital spending on other forms of public transport on a multi-annual basis;
- Encouraging greater use of public transport by reducing public transport fares (see Cost of Living proposals);
- Building the DART Underground at the earliest practicable date.
- Delivering new road infrastructure where there is a critical need, e.g. a high-grade connection between Cork, Limerick and Galway;
- Examining ways to rollout a national smart ticketing system that is integrated, accessible and efficient, and applies to all forms of public transport. We would maintain free travel for those over 66;
- Ensuring focus on suburban and hinterland commuter transport in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and other urban centres; working to provide greater reliability and frequency of services to move people out of cars;
- Continuing the development of light rail and tram services where they are needed, along with the rollout of Bus Rapid Transit in specific urban centres;
- Enhancing cycling infrastructure in our major cities and towns, and work on developing inter-urban cycleways and scenic greenways. We would implement cycle-friendly traffic management systems in major city and town centres.;
- Increasing incentives and subsidies to purchase Electric Vehicles, including subsidies for the installation of charge points domestically. We would increase the availability of fast-charge points nationwide;
- Reviewing current regulations governing taxi-drivers, with a particular focus on age of vehicle requirements, and improve consultation processes with the industry.
The Social Democrats oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
TTIP presents very serious concerns for the Social Democrats. While we support the removal of unnecessary barriers to trade where they bring benefits of sustainable economic growth and job creation, we do not consider consumer protections and product standards as barriers to be removed. We recognise the threat the regulatory coordination principles contained in the draft agreement make for very hard won standards and citizen protections in how products are manufactured and sold. We do not support the dilution or watering down of consumer protections under any circumstances. Furthermore, the proposed Investor-State Resolution mechanism appears to give undue influence and power to large corporations in determining public policy. The Social Democrats strongly believe that these provisions, as proposed, represent a threat to the proper democratic functioning of national parliaments and the right of governments to determine policy in the interests of the people alone. We also consider the secrecy of the process to be fundamentally undemocratic.