‘Social partnership’ is the name given to the tripartite, triennial national pay agreements reached in Ireland. It is a form social corporatism that involved a process of deliberation between the social partners (trade unions, employers, farming organisations, environmental organisation, and the community and voluntary sector) and the Government on social and economic policy issues.
There can be no doubt that Ireland had enjoyed unparalleled economic success over the lifetime of the seven Social Partnership agreements and “the sustained boom that became known as the Celtic Tiger transformed Ireland” (Allen 2000 p.4). Starting in 1987 at a time of high unemployment, forced emigration, above average levels of poverty, high inflation and weak economic growth, the Programme for National Recovery set out to address these issues and more through increased deliberation with the social partners and this deliberation process culminated in 2006 with Towards 2016. However it was not a quick fix, Social Partnership of the late 80’s only began a process of restructuring the Irish and it wasn’t until “94-95 that the economy as a whole began to perform close to its potential and generate substantial numbers of net additional jobs” (Geoghegan 2002 p.89) It has been argued that Social Partnership has played a key role in Irelands past economic success of the late nineties and early 2000’s but that it has also created a more unequal society and prosperity without fairness, while also contributing the current debt and budget deficits. While both these points may be equally valid, it cannot be said that Social Partnership has not benefited the Irish economy and society and whilst not in its current format, should be retained.
Social Partnership and Society
One of the principal aims of the Social Partnership strategy was to create a fairer and more inclusive society. The involvement on the community and voluntary sector was crucial in bringing about change in this area. They voiced the issues and concerns of the poor and marginalised in society and “their principle focus was on poverty, local development needs, the large-scale unemployment problem, the meagre levels of social welfare and the pervasive levels of hopelessness in many communities” (Larragy 2002 p.16) in the late 1980’s. The establishment of a new partnership body, the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) in 1993 widened the partnership programme and its membership included “the traditional social partners and representatives of the community and voluntary sector (including the organisation of the unemployed, youth, women, the disabled and various organisations working to combat social exclusion)” (O’Donnell & O’Reardon 2000).This went some way to filling a “vacuum in respect broader inputs on social policy in particular” (Geoghegan 2002 p.92) and It can be argued that these groups would not have had the social visibility they were given at a national policy level if it were not for Social...