A politics of fairness: Transformation in how we live must come, one way or another

Rite & Reason: Our economy experienced the strongest growth in the EU for a long time, with enormous windfall tax surpluses. Yet, the problems we faced before the last elections persist

There is a month to go until polling day for the local and European elections, and a general election is looming. Political parties and candidates will be working hard in the coming weeks to get their messages across to voters. At this pivotal point, as we grapple with the consequences of major transitions in climate, demographics, globalisation and digitalisation, those who seek to represent us cannot simply offer an updated version of business as usual.

A transformation in how we live is coming, one way or the other. The key challenge for politicians and aspiring politicians is to articulate what their vision of a transformed Ireland is, where this transformation is managed in a way that is fair and socially just, and where our national goals – economic, environment and social – are aligned to the common good, and to building a better future for all, not just the few.

Over the past 15 years we have been through the financial crash, austerity, Brexit, a pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis. Our economy has weathered each of these challenges and has recorded the strongest economic growth in the European Union for a considerable period. Enormous windfall tax surpluses have been generated.

And yet, the problems that we faced before the last local, European and general elections persist. In 2024, as in 2019, many of the fundamentals of the Irish economy – headline employment numbers, consumer statistics, exports – are on positive trajectories, but they are in sharp contrast with other indicators of progress.


Housing is a basic need for all humans. But despite a booming economy, Ireland has been doing a very poor job of providing appropriate accommodation for its citizens. Record levels of homelessness and child homelessness persist due to failures in housing policy. In fact, there were 3,500 more people in emergency homeless accommodation in March 2024 than in March 2019.

We have failed to provide the infrastructure required to keep pace with population growth

Unprecedented numbers of people seeking asylum are sleeping in tents as we are unable to offer them accommodation. The healthcare system continues to struggle with long waiting lists and people lying on trolleys in hospitals across the country. Equally debilitating are the persistent levels of poverty and inequality in our society. Income inequality has remained stubbornly stable over the past 50 years, which is not something for us to be proud of. Climate change is already having a profound impact on our natural environment and on farmers.

Immigration is, and has always been, a fact of life in Ireland. Despite assertions that Ireland is full, the number of people who moved to Ireland in 2023 was still fewer than in 2007. The needs of immigrants coming to fill jobs in high-tech, high-paid industries will be different from those seeking refuge from wars and persecution. However, there are some areas of commonality: all will need accommodation, healthcare, public transport, and many will need childcare and education.

Despite the years of record economic growth, we have not managed to use this growth and this surplus to improve our social infrastructure. We have failed to provide the infrastructure required to keep pace with population growth. This failure has been compounded by rising unplanned immigration, providing a convenient scapegoat for the systemic pressures being experienced widely.

Environmental, demographic, technological and economic transformation means that we cannot go back to the way things were

Anxiety about the negative consequences of change is already affecting communities and social cohesion. The spread of anti-immigrant sentiment and the growth of the politics of resentment and hostility makes clear that many feel alienated from the political system and what mainstream political parties have to offer. Inadequate levels of income and service-provision over a prolonged period and the consequences of such inequality and underinvestment for the social fabric must also be confronted.

Environmental, demographic, technological and economic transformation means that we cannot go back to the way things were. But we can manage this change and build a better future where social justice and the wellbeing of everybody in our country, whether born here or newly arrived, is prioritised.

This requires politicians to ensure that social wellbeing and investment in infrastructure and services take precedence. It requires planning for the long-term, and allocation of resources to housing, health services, renewable energy, public transport and income adequacy.

Politics must consider the needs of Ireland in the decades to come, not just the needs of Ireland today. Change is here – we cannot stop it. But we can plan for it and manage its impact across society. It is up to those seeking to represent us to demonstrate how they will do this in a way that is inclusive, constructive and positive.

Michelle Murphy is research and policy analyst at Social Justice Ireland