Sir, - As debate opens belatedly on Partnership 2090, we should like to draw attention to a section of that document which, to our knowledge, has received little or no notice in public debate and media reporting of the agreement.
Partnership 2000 identifies development of the "information society" as the first of six strategic areas of modernisation of the economy. As researchers of the "information society" we would point out that there is no historical evidence that development of the "information society" necessarily contributes to democratic, social and economic development. On the contrary, the United States, with the most developed "information society", is experiencing deepening social divisions and intensifying social exclusion.
Partnership 2000 has a stated commitment to "social inclusion". In part, this reflects the presence at the negotiations of representatives of the community and voluntary sector and of the socially excluded. Yet the document's section on the "information society" addresses the "information society" exclusively in an economic context and insists on its "huge potential for improved competitiveness, wealth creation and a higher standard of living" and on the "lucrative business opportunities" it presents.
This emphasis continues in the rest of this section, flying in the face of the concerns expressed in the government's own White Paper on Science Technology and Innovation. The White Paper says of the "information society" that "it is also open to generating socially and economically unacceptable and undesirable outcomes, deepening of social cleavages, unequal distribution of access". It also states - presumably as a formal expression of government policy - that "the development of the new age cannot be left solely to market forces".
There is no echo of these sentiments in Partnership 2000 which in referring to the forthcoming report of the government's Information Society Steering Committee, again draws attention only to the expected recommendations one economic issues. Despite the unbalanced business oriented composition of that committee the Minister for Employment and Enterprise has acknowledged that there were issues of social access and social inclusion which the committee needed to address.
In this context, the presentation of the "information society" issues in Partnership 2000 appears totally skewed. But is it perhaps a more accurate reflection of government policy than the other apparently more socially aware statements? And was there nobody among all the representatives of trade unions, of community interests, and of the voluntary sector who raised a question about this section of the document?
Whatever the answers to these questions, Partnership 2000's one dimensional statement on the "information society" must raise questions about the credibility of that document's claim to address social inclusion. - Yours, etc.,
Voluntary Sector in the
Information Age Research
School of Communications,
Dublin City University, Dublin 9.