In times of crisis, governments play an incredibly important role. This is because they have the capacity to implement the strategies needed to mitigate any potential harm to the general public and protect the most vulnerable among us on a scale larger than any individual or community organisation is capable of reaching.
In such a way, our political leaders have a unique responsibility. Crucially, they are tasked to fulfill the duties of making public policy — a term which refers to the courses of action, regulatory measures, laws, and funding priorities promulgated by the state in order to address the needs of the nation’s populace.
With a wide variety of issues facing our communities, the public policies adopted by government ultimately determine the parameters of our political struggles and engagements.
THE POLITICS OF POLICY
Public policy-making is a difficult process that involves the interaction of multiple parties — each of whom have their own intentions, concerns, and resources.
While these interests may indeed find their points of overlap, they are also oftentimes in competition. In other words, state policy is shaped by a myriad of factors — as well as a number of private and public actors — that altogether reflect a broad diversity of political views.
From election manifestos to legislative proposals, the ways in which political parties position themselves in relation to public policy directives speaks to where they stand on matters of social and economic inequality, human rights, and justice,
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
In the interest of public health and safety, Ireland’s Health Services Executive (or HSE) has recommended all individuals adhere to social distancing guidelines in order to minimise contact between potentially infected persons and thereby curb the spread of COVID-19. Wherever possible, people have been advised to self-isolate while businesses, schools, and other services have shuttered their doors in the interests of public safety.
“GOING BACK TO NORMAL”
The implementation of these wide-scale protective health behaviours have been incremental and framed as relatively temporary. Hence, by the beginning of May 2020, the government announced plans for a gradual “reopening” of the country. Yet medical experts have indicated that “going back to normal” may be a year or two out of our collective reach.
When looking to the long-term effects of these measures, we may certainly see a number of impacts to individual mental and physical health as an outcome of prolonged isolation but the whole of the state’s strategies present a complex myriad of public policy challenges.
The closure of secondary schools, for instance, has already put pressure on families to home school their children while managing other workloads on short notice. In addition to questions that have arisen in response to the cancellation of this year’s leaving cert, the Department of Education and Higher Education Authority (HEA) is now facing the realities of a financial deficit estimated at hundreds of millions of euros across the third-level sector.
Yet while much of this may come across as though we have been thrust into a wholly unfamiliar terrain, community organisations have critically argued that the coronavirus pandemic has only brought to surface the failures and gaps in existing state public policies.
These shortcomings have not only caused decades of immense hardship for those most vulnerable in our communities but have now pushed marginalised populations further into precarity. Likewise, others have critically pointed to how years of state austerity programmes have ostensibly created key deficits in the necessary social safety nets required to weather the present storm.
If you would like to explore these issues in further detail, we have collated some pieces from academics, writers, and community groups in Ireland. To explore these, just click on one of the buttons to the right.
Page last Updated: 12.49, Thursday, 14 May 2020