Rich paying for downturn but 'it doesn't feel like that'


THE RICH have paid a far higher price than other groups in society as a result of the economic downturn, leading economist Prof John Fitzgerald has said.

Prof Fitzgerald, research professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), said research had shown that more had happened in the last two years to redistribute wealth than had occurred in the previous 25 years.

He admitted, however: “It doesn’t feel like that.”

Money needed to be spent not just on creating infrastructure but on maintaining it, he told a conference on urban disadvantage yesterday. He also said local authorities here had a poor record for maintaining facilities, compared to in other countries.

Getting people back to work was the most effective way to make society more equal. The challenge was to get people back to employment that was worthwhile, but many people did not have skills in the areas where jobs would become available.

Prof Fitzgerald told the seminar that the spending of taxpayers’ money on sport tended to go to activities enjoyed by the well-off, such as horse and greyhound racing, rather than working-class pastimes such as soccer.

“The way we spent taxpayers’ money up to now to bring the benefits of sport to people was unsatisfactory. We tended to give more money to people who had organised themselves successfully, while disadvantaged communities were less well able to attract funding.”

The economy had a future and would come out of its current problems, he said. In making Ireland a success again, it was important to make the country an attractive place in which to live and to focus on what makes for a successful society.

Galway and Waterford had been at a similar level of development to each other in the 1960s, he noted, but since then Galway has thrived while Waterford has been less successful. It was worth asking whether this was because Galway was home to two world-class theatre companies.

The conference was organised by Pobal for this year’s European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion.

John Bissett, a community worker at St Michael’s estate in Inchicore, called for a State commitment to a more equal society. Working class communities suffered “multiple and interlocking” inequalities which caused them not to thrive, and these inequalities were intensified by the actions of the State through welfare cuts and tax increases.

Mr Bissett said up to 40,000 housing units were lying empty in Dublin, while up to 10 communities in the city were still waiting for long-promised regeneration projects. This was one of the greatest injustices in society.