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Speaking about the Just Society… May 24, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics.

I’ve been searching in vain for a copy of the Just Society by Declan Costello on the internet. For a supposed foundation document of modern Fine Gael it’s has a surprisingly low level of existence outside of referencing. To my shame I’ve never read it, but I’d like to.

Anyhow, what referencing… on the FG website one will learn this:

Declan Costello

By 1965 a new generation of politicians such as Declan Costello and Garret FitzGerald were dominating Fine Gael, and the Party adopted The Just Society document. In it, Fine Gael stated:

“Fundamentally we are concerned with making a reality of two concepts: Freedom and equality. Irish society today denies the full realisation of those concepts for all citizens. It is therefore not a just society. We seek office to work towards a society in which freedom and equality are not concepts for an academic textbook, but are expressed in real and tangible conditions which all our people can enjoy.”

The Just Society document saw the Party embrace the need for governments to act positively in order to improve the lives of the people.

It proposed root-and-branch reform of the public sector, as well as radically improved health and social welfare services.

It was with The Just Society in mind that new Party Leader, Liam Cosgrave agreed a pact with the Labour Party and formed the National Coalition that propelled Fine Gael into office in 1973

‘Root and branch reform of the public sector’ – eh? What a contemporary twist for a document that according to wiki and other sources sought social justice and economic planning as its main features. But how can we tell?

In 2004 Richard Bruton gave a speech, text of which here, at a Just Society seminar organised by the Collins 22 Society. He concluded with the following:

“The task for Fine Gael is to challenge complacency in the many areas where social justice is not being delivered. We must question the false consensus which tolerates many of these shortcomings. We must champion new policies capable of creating the just society which Declan Costello sketched out for Fine Gael almost forty years ago.”

And here he is from more recently arguing that:

A just society means different things to different people. Typically the media look to the voices of the left to shape the debate. But most on the left offer a narrow approach to justice offering a grey uniformity in pursuit of an egalitarian ideal. It is a perspective too closely aligned with state provision and lazily equates a higher percentage of public spending and tax with a fairer society. The notion that to deliver fair public services requires that they be universal, uniform and free is simply not consistent with the expectations of well informed citizens who want to have more control over their lives and the chance to do the very best for themselves and for their children with whatever resources are at their disposal.


However, a just society is not to be found either in the rabid individualism espoused by those on the right. Their view has been in the ascendant in recent years. It measures progress solely by rising consumer demand for, larger houses, exotic holidays and surround sound entertainment. At its best it offers personal refuge in a well furnished capsule. But too often its narrow pursuit allows the pillars which buttress strong communities crumble away. Solidarity falls between the crevices.

This seems quite a malleable concept. So malleable that David Begg can also reference it in front of CORI in 2002:

Those who have sought to create the conditions for a just society in Ireland have often faced difficulties. The most prominent casualty in recent memory was Mr Justice Declan Costello. In the 1960’s he promoted “the just society policy” in the Fine Gael party and, in so doing, put an end to his political career.

Wiki notes its connection with ‘social democracy’…

The Just Society, advocating policies based on principles of social justice and equality. That document was the brainchild of Declan Costello, a Fine Gael TD and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, and reflected an emerging faction in the party that was being influenced by Social Democracy. This new strand of thinking in Fine Gael paved the way for the rise within the party of liberal thinkers such as Garret FitzGerald.

Anyways, if anyone has a copy they’re willing to forward – or if they can point to an on-line source – I’d be very grateful. Who knows, perhaps it could/should take it’s place in the Left Archive.


1. Andrew Madden - May 24, 2011

Just Society = a wankers charter


2. Earl Williams - May 24, 2011

This was really just the ghastly middle classes keeping up (ideologically) with the Joneses, wasn’t it?

By the 1980s, the fashion had changed and the Chicago school was all the go. Hence the PDs.


3. make do and mend - May 24, 2011

I only heard this info second hand about a newly retired FG TD. Apparently he lamented that the opportunities for middle class people to start their own businesses were extremely limited these days given the economy of scales needed to make a profit. Plus the overall mentality of the membership had hardened in relation to labourers. Something he was uncomfortable with.

While FG policy has always been tinted with puritanical bent, especially with regard to unemployed who are unemployed because of their personal faults, they at least acknowledged that hard working labourers were human and should be afforded some standard of living for their efforts. (How benvolent.) Today many hard core FG supporters regard labour as a mere commodity to be used and discarded (especially if they want wage increases). Labour, only viewed as a commodity and a high priced one at even minimum wage by many, are seen as an impediment to its core membership all becoming entrepeneurs. Varadkar exemplifies this mentality well.

The “Just Society” angle seemed nothing more than a call to maintain a status quo where the “just” are well-off or rich due to their mental and moral superiority while assuming these talented individuals would provide the lower orders with enough to keep them working. I suppose they viewed a Just Society policy as some sort of naturally occuring symbiosis. Whereas today labour is viewed as a parasite by many younger members. (Youth being relative.)

FG has never has any truck that labour creates value. Value is only created by those who run business. And, of course, resources are infinite; waste magically disappears; and all people are rational economic actors whose sole purpose is to hoard commodities.


Daniel Sullivan - May 24, 2011

“I only heard this info second hand about X” wow with that sort of referencing and corroboration you could be writing for the Daily Mail. That you go on the state what you evidently appear to think you know for fact are the views of “many hard core FG supporters” as regard labour shouldn’t surprise anyone. Though I suspect it will be sufficient for some readers.

The notion that labour and hard work don’t create value or are mere commodities isn’t something that would find favour with most of the members of FG that I would know. But hey let’s forget all that and you just keep living in that fantasy world where no one, not to mind an majority in many parts of Ireland, from a working class background voted for parties other than those you deem the sole real representatives of “working people”.


Glimmerman - May 24, 2011

@ Dan:

“no one, not to mind an majority in many parts of Ireland, from a working class background voted for parties other than those you deem the sole real representatives of working people.”

Kinda like you, then, Dan. you must have an affinity, no? :-)


Daniel Sullivan - May 24, 2011

Oh how cutting, how painful and how witty. How many votes have you gotten glimmerman?


Glimmerman - May 24, 2011

More than you, that’s for sure!

But then again, that wouldn’t be hard.:-)


Daniel Sullivan - May 24, 2011

It wouldn’t be hard, odd that you hide behind a pseudonym in that case though.


make do and mend - May 24, 2011

Why the sarcastic tone? My comments hit a nerve?

The sentiments expressed by the retired TD are hardly earth shattering, although Varadkar’s well documented statements, including the attack on Fitzgerald, bely the attitude taken by many FGers to labour.

I’m sure your beloved FGers love hard work from labour. How else can they commandeer profit?

Your concern for the labouring class, overall, is touching though.


Daniel Sullivan - May 26, 2011

The tone arose from your expectation that your 2nd or 3rd hand recounting of the views of a FG TD should be viewed as credible.

Odd that you choose to misrepresent what I said as “FGers love hard work from labour. How else can they commandeer profit?” when I was simply echoing your own words about labour and hard work having a role in creating value.


4. Terry McDermott - May 24, 2011

Vincent Browne is a product of that ideology. It comes out in his erratic pronouncements on cutting the rate pf pay-for everyone.


5. EamonnCork - May 24, 2011

What was David Begg on about? Declan Costello went on to become Attorney General in the coalition government from 1973-1977 which hardly equates to life in the political wilderness. Though I have heard the trope about Costello as martyr before. It’s often said that TJS provided the ideological underpinning for Fitz era Fine Gael but this doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. TJS was squashed at the time by Gerard Sweetman and similar fiscal conservatives. And by the time Garret was Taoiseach he was actually running on a platform of fiscal rectitude.
People tend to confused Garret’s, mild, social liberalism with the notion that he was to the left economically. Just to confuse things further Costello was to the right morally and at one stage, when Paddy Cooney was trying to get the first Family Planning Bill passed (the one Cosgrave voted against), suggested including a measure whereby gardai would be allowed to question and search people who’d bought condoms just to make sure they were really married.

And Bruton doesn’t make much sense either. ‘Grey uniformity,’ the old right wing canard that a fair society involves everyone dressed in identical North Korean style dungarees. And it would be interesting to hear him explain why ‘universal’ and ‘uniform’ public services are somehow unfair.
‘Well informed citizens,’ seems to be code for the kind of well heeled souls particularly dear to Bruton and his ilk, the implication being that they and their children are somehow being held back by the state’s insistence on providing for less brainy types.
WBS, perhaps the reason the Just Society document is more referenced than read is that it’s a kind of palimpsest on which chancers from a variety of political backgrounds can draw whatever pictures what they want. If we actually knew anything about it, it wouldn’t be such a handily invoked sacred cow.


6. Daniel Sullivan - May 24, 2011

WyB, I’ve asked about and apparently electronic version are thin on the ground. However, I have tracked down some details on its whereabouts in the national library and might chance copying it tomorrow and seeing if I can’t upload to my own site. Will link you when done.


WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2011

Thanks Daniel.


Daniel Sullivan - May 26, 2011

I was in but had missed the 10am ordering slot and had to head away again before the noon slot. Will be in again and get a copy. Also, I heard rumours that they have the full 1991 election results somewhere!


irishelectionliterature - May 26, 2011

I have the 1991 Local Election Results from the paper and Noel Whelans book if that’s any use to you Dan…


Daniel Sullivan - May 26, 2011

Are those the full count results? Cos I’ve seen some first counts about the place electionsireland.org and such but not the full counts.


irishelectionliterature - May 26, 2011

yep full count results


Daniel Sullivan - May 26, 2011

Oh that sounds nice.


irishelectionliterature - May 26, 2011

Whelans 1991 Local Elections book (with full count results, backgrounds, write ups etc) is up on Abebooks at the minute


Daniel Sullivan - May 27, 2011

Thanks for that, I went to Kennys.ie directly from that link and have ordered it. More numbers to crunch, lovely.


7. John Cunningham - May 24, 2011

Regarding Declan ‘Just Society’ Costello, he was one of the eminent legal figures who ruled in favour of the nuns in the Eileen Flynn case. In a judgement delivered on International Women’s Day, 1985, he stated that Flynn should have known ‘from her upbringing as a Catholic, and previous experience as a teacher, the sort of school she sought employment and she should have been well aware of the obligations she would undertake by joining the staff.’ The specific obligation he was referring to in this instance was the obligation of a single female teacher to avoid having a relationship with a separated man (in pre-divorce Ireland).


Jim Monaghan - May 27, 2011

And if memory serves me right so did the union rep. at the Labour Court. The Barmen’s union, I think


8. WorldbyStorm - May 24, 2011

I take on board what people are saying. What intrigues me though is precisely this touchstone use of the document by FG subsequently and I really want to see how, at least on economic matters, it stacks up. This divergence by Costello on social issues is really fascinating.


9. Ciara Meehan - May 25, 2011

A copy of Towards a Just Society (the 1965 manifesto) and Winning through to a Just Society (1969 manifesto, based on 1965 version) are both available from the National Library. They’re mostly the work of Declan Costello, with some input from those who helped him draft the document and they reflect the modified 8-point proposal he brought to the party. After some compromise, the proposal was revised to a certain extent and a ninth point was added.


WorldbyStorm - May 26, 2011

That’s an option, but I was sort of hoping for an easier more efficient [i.e. less time-consuming] outcome :)


Daniel Sullivan - May 26, 2011

I plan of revisiting the national library shortly now that I’ve a reader pass (another in my series of ex-con photo IDs) and know the call no. (thanks to Ciara for that) I plan to copy, then scan and upload to the web for all to see.


10. Tomboktu - June 6, 2011

Daniel Sullivan “I’ve asked about and apparently electronic version are thin on the ground. However, I have tracked down some details on its whereabouts in the national library and might chance copying it tomorrow and seeing if I can’t upload to my own site. Will link you when done.

It’s back in the news with the death today of Declan Costello.

Did you get a chance to upload it yet?


11. Declan Costello Dies - Page 4 - June 6, 2011

[…] […]


12. Daniel Sullivan - June 8, 2011

I have finally got a hard copy just today, will need to scan and upload. Might try to take pictures with the phone and upload those as an interim measure.


13. dksullivan - June 11, 2011

You can get a first stab at the document here. http://www.danielsullivan.ie/blog/?p=2267 I had to scan it and reformat the layout post that as the OCR with my scanner messed things up a bit. I hope to revise it over the weekend and have a final copy for Monday.


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