I was recently talking to someone who was pointing out the eye-watering cost of childcare in Ireland. She remarked that it was subsidised in other countries, and perhaps we should consider that here? I had no objection to the concept. Affordable childcare would help, for example, get many single parents out of the welfare trap. The problem, however, is that someone has to pay for the subsidy. Who? It would be at this point that conventional Irish politics breaks down.
See, we’ll have so shortage of candidates, especially opposition candidates, who will nod sagely and emphatically in agreement with the concept. But ask them to how to fund this (very expensive) policy and they’ll either waffle about the past (we were able to fund the bondholders!) or spoof about the future (we’ll reduce waste in buying staples, etc!).
Supposing instead we were to draft, say, three different taxes to fund it. An income levy, a rise in income tax, or a rise in VAT. And supposing we were to put the whole thing to the people in a preferendum. Outline exactly what people would get, to the euro, and ask them to vote, with STV, on either which tax should be introduced to fund it, or a fourth option of voting down the whole idea. Would it be complicated? Probably, but so what? We’re always being told how sharp Irish voters are, and when it comes to money I think they’ll educate themselves very quickly.
What would be the outcome? Well, first of all, a chunk of the public would be outraged that they were being asked to make a choice, and would have the useless gutless pandering “John Hurt in The Field” politicians grovelling beside them, promising that yes, you can have your cake for free.
As for the rest of the public? Hmmm. What would turnout be like? Would only those interested in childcare vote? Or would others vote to stop a new tax? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you one thing: it would be democracy in its rawest, confronting citizens with the reality that you can vote yourself all the stuff you’re willing to pay for, and that would surely be a good thing.