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Focus on General Election 2016 – What can we expect from the next Government?

Dec 21, 2015

Last week Chambers Ireland held a Forum with our Chamber Executives and five TDs from across the political spectrum to discuss priorities ahead of the next election. The forum provided for healthy debate with Derek Nolan (Labour), Lucinda Creighton (Renua), Áine Collins (Fine Gael), Dara Calleary (Fianna Fáil) and Peadar Toibín (Sinn Féin) all setting out their party priorities on issues that are particularly relevant to the Irish business community.

The debate began by each TD speaking for a few minutes on how their party proposes to support business and entrepreneurs if in government. Each party had a different perspective but all agreed that more needed to be done to address the cost of doing business in Ireland and our economic competitiveness. The discussion centred on the point that Government does not create jobs but rather the environment in which jobs can be created. This competitive environment is something that Chambers Ireland would like to see the next government tackle further to make Ireland a more attractive place for entrepreneurs and small businesses to generate further employment. The Chamber Executives engaged with the politicians on issues of concern to their members and a positive discussion emerged on reducing Capital Gains Tax, on increasing wage rates and challenges to competitiveness, and on potential change to the system of calculating Local Authority rates.

The debate moved on to the matter of physical infrastructure, planning and economic development. There was consensus across the political spectrum that greater investment is needed in infrastructure as well as timely completion of the current capital investment plan. Within this, there was an inevitable focus on specific infrastructure projects but the main issue was how improved infrastructure is essential to future economic growth. It was positive from Chambers Ireland’s perspective to hear there is strong party support for development and implementation of a new National Planning Framework. Again, there was broad agreement that the 2002 National Spatial Strategy lacked the political will for implementation. The Chamber Executives emphasised the need for firm timelines and targets from all parties in advance of the election and that projects cannot be implemented in a planning vacuum, a National Planning Framework is needed to ensure sustainable economic growth throughout the regions.

Making Ireland a better place to live and work became central to the debate as the panel outlined how they feel the next Government should invest in social infrastructure. While it there was agreement on the need for greater investment in early childhood education and childcare and that improvements could be made to the education system, there was clear divergence on how each party would approach such issues. There was an acceptance of the reality that shortage of housing is an increasing problem for business. Each member on the panel and everyone in the room agreed on this and on the scale of the problem Ireland is facing due to lack of housing supply and there was discussion of how the next Government will address the housing crisis. What appeared from the panel was that while suggestions exist, no party holds the answer to addressing the housing crisis. This is something that is going to require thinking from across government departments and possibly require policies that won’t be electorally popular in the short term.

The debate concluded with a question posed by Chambers Ireland on TTIP. We are supportive of the potential benefits TTIP would have for Irish SMEs but feel that political parties and the Government should be doing more to dispel some of the misinformation that is in the public domain on TTIP. Most candidates were broadly supportive of TTIP, with some concern expressed on the ISDS mechanism. It is hoped that the next Government will be better able to communicate the potential benefits of TTIP for Ireland and be able to further strengthen support for TTIP.

All candidates were invited to engage further with the local Chamber in their area. Ireland is unique in Europe in the low level of government usage of Chambers. We made the point that government should use and invest in local Chambers to engage with the business community and support employment on the ground.

If you want further insight into what was discussed on the day, take a look at our twitter feed @chambersireland or at #chambermanifesto

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