This is a guest post by Rachel Mullen, Coordinator of the Equality and Rights Alliance and a point of contact for Common Cause in Ireland.

We have come through a difficult period of austerity, the impact of which has given rise to diminished public services, a homeless crisis, a significant increase in child poverty and growing hostility to migrants, to name but a few key issues. The community and voluntary sector has taken a battering, with many organisations under increased pressure to deliver frontline services to greater numbers and with fewer resources.

Pic for Mullen blog

Adapted from image by Saxarocks, Flickr Creative Commons - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Overall, it seems that current strategies feel inadequate to the task of renewal and delivering transformative change. A key impediment in this regard is the fragmentation and silo-based approaches across the not-for-profit sector (despite the fact that many organisations are working for similar high level goals) and also a lack of innovation and new ways of seeking change.

So too is our public sector losing its way. Having traditionally espoused core values of 'equity ' and 'integrity ', the recent Public Sector Reform Plan emphasises efficiency, productivity and cost-reduction. Austerity has provided cover for the reinforcement of neoliberal values and, therefore, a renewal of public sector values is essential.

A values-led approach offers significant potential to address fragmentation in the not-for-profit sector and to inject new energy and renewal into the operation of public sector and non-governmental organisations.

As part of our work with the Equality and Rights Alliance, myself and a colleague, Niall Crowley, offer our contributions to this debate by way of two papers:

  1. Equality and Human Rights : an Integrated Approach and
  2. A New Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.

These papers suggest a values-based framework as a means to addressing equality and human rights in an integrated way and as a framework to implementing the new statutory public sector equality and human rights duty, introduced into Irish legislation in 2014. We suggest that the five values of: Democracy, Dignity, Inclusion, Autonomy and Social Justice are central values that underpin and reinforce equality and human rights. The papers outline how statutory and civil society organisations could use these five values as a basis for defining the key goals, objectives and outcomes for their work in addressing inequality, discrimination and human rights concerns. A values-led framework has, we argue, the potential to develop a common approach to the new duty across the broad public sector and also offers potential to civil society to address equality and human rights concerns in more effective and innovative ways which could also address some of the current issues regarding fragmentation across different parts of the sector.

A critical dialogue about the role of values in Irish society was ignited by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who, in his inaugural speech in 2011, told the people of Ireland that it was “necessary to move past the assumptions which have failed us and to work together for such a different set of values as will enable us to build a sustainable social economy and a society which is profoundly ethical and inclusive." The highest office holder in the land has set down a gauntlet, it is incumbent on those of us working for transformative social change to take up the challenge.

Contact Rachel if you are interested in this work, or want to learn more about the Common Cause network in Ireland.