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9 March 2006 Edition

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OECD Report: Sinn Féin proposals backed up


Economic shortcomings highlighted

There have been those in the media and the financial community and other so-called economic experts, who have rushed to brand Sinn Féin's economic analysis as crazy, but they were strangely quiet this week as they digested findings in the latest report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Focussing on investment in primary education and childcare, tackling educational disadvantage, recognising that the Irish economy will have to become more reliant on home-grown firms, examining the feasibility of new property taxes, streamlining ill co-ordinated research and development investment, supporting higher public spending on transport, health services, communications and waste management, were just some of the suggestions in the economic survey published last week.

What is startling about the OECD survey, is that many of the issues they tackle have been ones highlighted by Sinn Féin in recent years and some of the proposals, such as investing in worker training and reorganising R&D co-ordination and spending in Ireland, are dealt with in detail in Sinn Féin's new enterprise policy document ratified at last month's ard fheis.

The OECD is a free market supporting, politically conservative organisations, so the failures they highlight in the Irish economy are all the more startling as it is clear from the report that the 26-Counties face some major challenges in coming years.

Though there are many problems with OECD analysis, such as their support for privatising public transport and public private partnerships, there is some interesting reading in their conclusion. Below we highlight some of the key findings.

The one major gap in the study is an all-Ireland dimension, the report doesn't focus at all on the Six Counties. Moving forward the integration of the island economy must be a key part of any feasible economic strategy, however there is still plenty of meat to the OECD analysis and if this is the position of the free marketers what more needs to be done on those who don't live by market driven ideologies?

26 County economy: What the OECD found:

• Education

"Pre-school attendance is low while classes are large and of short duration". "Priority should be given to reducing class sizes, extending sessions and creating seamless pre-school and day care facilities at the same location". Only Greece has a lower access to pre primary education among the pre-enlargement 15 EU member states.

"In secondary schools, too many youngsters are leaving without upper secondary qualifications". There is "inadequate help for students who are struggling" and "There is a shortage of remedial or catch up classes".

The OECD also focus on adult education, highlighting the lower educational attainments in the older age groups and that "People at work can be locked out of further education by financing constraints and because the supply of part-time courses is not responsive enough".

• Research and Development

The OECD found that "The R&D intensity of Irish owned firms is among the lowest in the OECD" and that there has been years of neglect in the university research sector. There is also a concern expressed that there are too many agencies involved in funding R&D and that co-ordination will "have to improve" and that the framework of encouraging scientific research has to be improved.

• Childcare

The OECD states, "Out-of-school-hours care is almost non existent and is one reason why the employment rate of mothers with children is especially low" and that the tax system discriminates against mothers at work. They argue that the coalition government commitment to support the creation of 50,000 extra childcare places by 2010 needs to be "implemented swiftly".

• Housing

Housing is the "key domestic risk" to the Irish economy. Average prices have tripled over the past decade and though the OECD believes that the housing market prices have "overshot" and that prices will level out or decline slightly, there are also other more negative alternative scenarios.

The OECD floats the idea of a property tax to distribute some of the windfall gains of people selling property. The revenue could help fund local infrastructure.

• Infrastructure Deficit

The lack of investment in infrastructure is also highlighted by the OECD and they cite failures in transport, electricity, landfill, waste water treatment and broadband internet.

The OECD states that, "Insufficient investment in environmental infrastructure has led to pollution and soaring prices for some services".

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