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MacGill Summer School

22nd – 27th July 2018, Glenties

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The MacGill Summer School has been in existence for thirty two years and in that time has grown from modest beginnings to being one of the most important fora in Ireland for the analysis of topics of national interest. 


Founded by Dr Joe Mulholland and a local committee in Glenties to celebrate the memory of local writer, Patrick MacGill, some of whose books became bestsellers in Britain in the first decades of the 20th century, the School has consistently been a source of innovative and fresh thinking on a whole range of social, economic and political ideas.

It brings together every July, government ministers, members of the opposition, heads of industry, trade union leaders, economists, sociologists, church leaders, members of the judiciary as well as public representatives from Northern Ireland.  For a week in July, the small village of Glenties becomes a major, non-partisan centre of debate to which the public can gain access for a few Euros.

38th Annual MacGill Summer School & Arts Week
2018 Programme

The future of Europe will be high on the agenda. The continuing negotiations between the European Union and Britain on the terms of its leaving the Union will undoubtedly be a continuing period of anxiety and even turbulence for Ireland, North and South. The social, economic and political challenges for both parts of the island will have to be confronted and dealt with skilfully, sensitively, and hopefully with some vision and courage, by political leaders and all institutions.  As of now, the political crisis within Northern Ireland would lead one to believe that the problem of dealing with Brexit and its aftermath is only one aspect of an unstable situation towards which we’re heading.   Pragmatism, vision and common sense are required in great quantity.

The MacGill School will, of course, focus again on the many facets of the fallout from Brexit, and there is the future of the European Union itself of which Ireland will be a full member playing an even more significant role in its affairs. As an equal member state with twenty-six others and the only English-language member, our voice will be strong  concerning the future shape and development of the Union. We will also be relying on our fellow member-states for their understanding of our special position post-Brexit and their continuing solidarity.  

Morale in the European Union has been uplifted somewhat by signs of the end of economic stagnation as well as the new, visionary and dynamic leadership of the French President, Emmanuel Macron. The threats of the past few years to the very existence of the Union have subsided but, as President Macron has pointed out in his major speech at the Sorbonne University on September 26th of last year, the challenges which remain are serious and daunting particularly at a time when not all members of the European Union are showing solidarity in even defending the basic principles of the Union. As the French President has said,  “Only Europe can….guarantee genuine sovereignty or our ability to exist in today’s world and defend our values and interests.” Strong, determined and decisive leadership, provided hopefully with renewed vigour by the French and German governments acting in tandem, can move on from a Europe, described by the French President as “too weak, too slow, too inefficient.”

As far as Ireland is concerned, the multi-faceted reform agenda as outlined by Emmanuel Macron is undoubtedly welcome even if some elements of it will, as is to be expected, receive close scrutiny. In particular, reform of the eurozone with a common budget, finance minister and parliament, the future shape of the Common Agriculture policy, the  strengthening of Europe’s security and its defence capabilities and, perhaps the most sensitive for Ireland of the whole range of measures proposed by President Macron, the  harmonizing of the corporate tax rates in the European Union and preventing tax avoidance by large multinational companies are all matters to be discussed and analysed at this year’s MacGill.

Our deliberations will also focus on the need to reform and adapt our own political, economic and administrative systems to meet the challenges of a new era, including a rapidly increasing population and the fallout from revolutionary new technology.  Recent events such as our housing crisis, our policing crisis and ongoing health crisis and, as is the case in many parts of Europe, growing inequality leading to disillusionment with democracy as we know it point to the urgent need for our country to reform itself.   The most recent research showing that the gap between rich and poor is growing not narrowing demands to be taken seriously in one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a relatively small population.  It is in the key public services of health and education that this inequality is very much in evidence.  We must make education at all levels accessible to the most disadvantaged of our society and provide incentives where necessary, irrespective of the cost.  All of us will benefit.

In the context of our changing environment, we are on the verge of yet another leap forward in terms of technological transformation which will have far reaching consequences on our lives and our society.  Already patterns of working life have changed beyond recognition with growing numbers on short-term contracts, homes becoming the workplace for many, and most seriously of all is the development of artificial intelligence which will continue to reduce employment throughout every sector of economic activity.  The implications for our education system, for professional formation and training and for our society as a whole have to be an essential part of our thinking and planning for the future.

As has been said over several years at the MacGill School, we require new, visionary, long-term social, economic and political strategy.  The National Planning Framework is a step in the right direction but the country’s history of implementation of such plans is hardly impressive.  The early signs are that, once more, local clientelist politics and vote garnering will get in the way of planning effectively in the national interest for the future of all the citizens in all parts of the country.  The issue is now too important to our wellbeing to have the kind of debacles we have witnessed in recent times such as that of “decentralisation” as well as those relating to such basic services as housing, water, broadband and infrastructure in general.

Central to all of this, of course, are the long-term prospects for our economy and the threats to it and this will also be central to MacGill’s agenda. So also will be political stability which is essential to our economic wellbeing and to so many other elements of national life.  By July, we will be in the run up to a general election which, if we have any chance of facing up to the serious challenges ahead, must provide strong, decisive and effective governance of the country as it embarks on what will hopefully be a new phase of European innovation and development.  Our political system has remained largely unchanged since the foundation of the state and is out of kilter with a young, modern democracy requiring the capacity to adapt itself to a rapidly changing world.

We have, then, a very demanding agenda at the MacGill School. As usual, more than fifty contributors from Ireland and abroad including political leaders and representatives of all areas of public life will assemble in Glenties for what is now generally recognised as one of the country’s most important and relevant national fora.

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