Ireland not immune from the ‘risk of populism’

When populists fail to deliver on promises, they will look for scapegoats, says Minister

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: “We need to renew our focus on policies that seek to be aware of, or make progress on, income inequality.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: “We need to renew our focus on policies that seek to be aware of, or make progress on, income inequality.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Ireland is not immune to the rise of the populist politics seen around the world since 2016, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has warned.

In a lecture delivered in Dublin yesterday, Mr Donohoe argued that Ireland is “deeply fortunate to have only a few minority viewpoints that echo the worst of the dangers and difficulties we’re seeing elsewhere”.

“But we shouldn’t comfort ourselves with this continually. We shouldn’t believe that we can be immune to this kind of risk,” he said.

The Minister also said the new narrative of “betrayal” could arise in countries where political populists were in government or held significant power over government. Some countries could face a populist ‘double dip’ as governments failed to deliver on their promises and sought scapegoats to blame, he said.

“The new narrative that could develop on foot of this double dip is one of betrayal. And in the process, the well of public debate and political engagement becomes ever more challenging and potentially poisoned.”

“Imagine that the hardest of Brexiteers saw their ambitions realised, but as a consequence of this, we saw a significant reduction in living standards, and saw that the scope was not there to realise many of the aims they had championed,” he said. “Who then is left to blame? They are serious questions.”

The Minister said the Government was committed to policies which focus on the unequal distribution of wealth in society. “We need to renew our focus on policies that seek to be aware of, or make progress on, income inequality,” he said, citing the launch of the Land Development Agency and plans for auto-enrolment in pensions.

We have seen the very, very wealthiest making exponential gains that are increasingly visible

“We need to have the intellectual honesty to recognise where markets do not work, and a clear and robust understanding of their limits. We have to be aware of the challenges of an unequal distribution in the ownership of assets, as the nature of these assets change.”

Mr Donohoe said that while globalisation had improved living standards generally, a widening gap between rich and poor in some countries was fuelling political tensions.

“We have seen the very, very wealthiest making exponential gains that are increasingly visible. With all of these changes taking place... it’s little surprise to see such a powerful political reaction,” he said. “Globalisation is something that is seen by many as something which, far from helping address inequality, has the potential — and in some cases is — exacerbating it.”