While the economic recovery is in train, inequality in Ireland is starkly evidenced by the fact that over 100,000 people currently in work are living in poverty.
That deeply worrying statistic (as measured by the Central Statistics Office) was shared by Social Justice Ireland (SJI) Director Sean Healy at WIT on Wednesday last at the launch of a new MA in Social Justice and Public Policy.
The MA, which had been previously offered by the now closed All Hallows College in Dublin in partnership with SJI, has been re-launched under the WIT banner and will be delivered as a two-year part-time course at a Dublin city centre location. It’s envisaged that between 15 and 20 students will be initially taken into the programme.
Speaking at the launch at WIT’s Tourism and Leisure Building on Wednesday last, Dr Healy told The Munster Express: “Yes, we’ve recovered from the recession but we don’t have the kind of distribution of that additional growth in a fair way and the result of that is that we now have 100,000 people in Ireland who have a job but are living in poverty – they’re part of this new grouping called the ‘Precariat’ because their jobs are precarious. They only have part-time jobs, they don’t have any security, some of them are working on these ‘zero hours’ contract in that they might have only 15 hours work a week but they wouldn’t know when in the week they’d be working those 15 hours – that’s clearly not fair in a situation in which the economy is growing and we’re one of the fastest growing economies in the western world.”
He added: We need to think about the kind of future we want and it seems to me that most Irish people would want, obviously to ensure that we would have good growth but that it should be sustainable over a long period. But they also want the growth to be used effectively to generate health, education and infrastructure like social housing and rural broadband as the same scale as the rest of the west and north of Europe…these are things we need to be talking about if we were to build a sustainable country and if we’re to have governance that involves everybody.”
Within the context of the Project Ireland 2040 plan, Dr Healy stated: “I think long term planning is absolutely essential for the future but I don’t believe there has been sufficient long term planning done as yet within the whole 2040 framework – whereas there’s money organised for the first 10 years of the plan. However, by putting that framework in place, (the Government) have taken a very serious step. Now it needs a lot more engagement from the citizens of the country, to decide what type of Ireland do we want by 2040 and I think we need a lot more discussion about that, and not just to assume that we all agree, because we don’t.”
Dr Healy said the MA will seek to “build on the experience of the participants quite strongly”. He added: “They’ll be introduced to the realities of the world and how to analyse it effectively in terms of engaging with social change towards a more just and inclusive society, while also focusing on influencing public policy.”
The programme is designed to “form graduates with a belief that this vision of a more inclusive world and just society is possible”.
WIT course leader and Humanities lecturer, Dr Paul Clogher said the MA would cater for students “seeking to promote a fairer society” and would build upon the Institute’s long-standing teaching and research connection with SJI.
“This is also a positive development for the region and community, especially when you develop programmes, as we try to do, which answer particular issues and needs. And this Social Justice MA is an attempt to look at quality of life issues in the region as much as it provides a vehicle and qualification for further studies.”
Dr Clogher acknowledged that the region’s history of economic under-development and unemployment provided would-be candidates with a considerable “research tapestry from a national, policy and existential level…which raise questions of who we are and how we ought to live.”
As for the footprint this MA will provide WIT in Dublin, Mr Clogher stated: “It keeps links open as well. The modern third level institution has to look not only toward the student firstly, but it must also look outwardly and beyond the physical location of the Institute itself. We’ve already collaborated with the Spire group at Milltown Park (Dublin) who are involved in the study of spirituality and we’ve been collaborating with Social Justice Ireland for a number of years, so the opportunity to bring that footprint further afield, into Dublin and to have a presence there is welcome and also shows that we’re not constrained by physical location.”
Dr Healy said that SJI was “very happy to partner with WIT in the development of this Masters programme. It’s a Level 9 Degree so it’s a very serious piece of work to take on”.
He said that the programme was both timely and necessary, citing not only the 100,000 working who remain in poverty, but the 750,000 citizens living in poverty, with more than a million people experiencing deprivation. “We still have a long way to go,” he stated.