The column by Mark Fitzgerald invoking the Just Society suffers from the usual weaknesses of most writing about this document. The column is long on the supposed motivations and good intentions of those involved but short on the specifics of what the document proposed to do. It ignores entirely that the Ireland of the mid 1960s was a very different place to the one we live in now. The reality is that more people have read the terms and conditions associated with a recently purchased household appliance than have read the document “Towards a Just Society”.
Towards a Just Society championed price controls that would see the state fix prices; much as we had with air travel in the 80s, income controls that would protect the professions from competition and rapidly increase the pay of those working for the state while glossing over how any of this would be funded. It proposed the sale of local authority houses to their tenants: a policy now condemned by some quarters as Thatcherite, A policy of Universal Health Insurance to fund Healthcare: an idea that is cyclically lauded as ensuring people have equal access the health system but then run from by the electorate when it is noted that everyone would be required to contribute something. While popular with those affected, do we still need “a scheme of Arbitration for Sub-Postmasters”? , or to single out for “increase the pensions of C.I.E. pensioners,” or to “exempt completely from Rates all farmers who have a total P.L.V. of £25 or less.”? This might seem nitpicking but it shows the document was prone to just the sort of tainted pandering to special interests that many who now invoke the document will denounce with disdain.
Towards a Just Society was of its time and served its purpose but it is long past time that it was given a decent burial. Instead we should task ourselves with creating a new document one that addresses itself to the challenges we still face while acknowledging that we are faced with wholly new challenges too and that there are completely different options open to us.
Standing in front of a mirror or clicking your heels 3 times while saying ” There’s no place like Just Society” does nothing for nobody. The lazy invocation of “Towards A Just Society” is no more a useful contribution to political debate than asking us to “Remember the Alamo”.