PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has delivered a pre-Budget warning to the Government not to give "preferential treatment" to any sector based on a "narrow conception of wealth".
In a strongly worded speech, he also urged that the country's institutions should make economic decisions based on fairness, and not wealth.
It comes as the Government is debating how to implement a Budget adjustment of up to €3.1bn – with Fine Gael ministers adamant that no action should be taken that would increase tax rates.
In a lengthy address at Dublin City University on ethics and the economy, President Higgins said activities involving "care and love" were not measured by traditional economic theory.
"We need to make sure that all institutions allow for truly democratic deliberations on economic policy choices, that no particular sector gets preferential treatment in the name of a narrow conception of wealth, and that our media do not foreclose political debate on economic matters," he said.
Speaking afterwards to the Irish Independent, President Higgins said he could not comment on the Budget. But he said he wanted everyone across Europe to be able to participate in the economic debate – and not for it to be portrayed as one which is beyond the public's understanding. "If you do that, you run the risk of losing legitimacy," he said. As President, Mr Higgins is precluded from commenting on government policy. But since he was elected almost two years ago, he has consistently pushed his office's mandate to the limit by speaking out on a variety of subjects. A government source said there was no intention of taking any action to censor President Higgins. "We'll let him at it," he said. During his 45-minute address to an audience of 600 people, President Higgins delivered a strong attack on auditors and board members who had followed the protocols rather than speaking out about problems that led to the economic collapse. "I look across all the self-regulated professions and the trust that was placed in them by society, a trust that was broken," he said.
He also criticised economists who did not value the contributions made by people outside the traditional workplace – such as parents and grandparents.
He said that Gross Domestic Product was an inadequate way to measure somebody's contribution. And he criticised the view that students had to be able to justify their course choices in terms of the potential job prospects. He called for philosophy to be taught as a school subject to give people a better understanding of the debate over society's future.
By Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor