Ireland and New Zealand- kindred spirits in pioneering law making

Global politics are in a state of chaos, largely due to the erratic actions of influential leaders and their countries.

For instance, US President Trump continues to announce his controversial foreign policy via twitter, while recklessly tearing up the proverbial rule book on diplomacy with its former allies.

Coupled with the never ending saga of Brexit where each day requires maligned UK Prime Minister Teresa May, to unashamedly spin yet another U-turn on EU negotiations or sack another defiant member of her cabinet.

Such disarray is quickly followed by the worrying covert developments in Russia. Where President Vladimir Putin is allegedly engaging in Machiavellian type behaviour with his strategic rigging of elections as an affront on western democracy.

Political upheaval on this grandiose scale can understandably foster the growth of cynicism and despair amongst the masses.

All hope is not lost however as Ireland and New Zealand have become unlikely kindred spirits that offer some inspiration in these testing times for modern day politics

Both countries have demonstrated an exemplary approach within the sphere of law making, through their progressive and socially tailored legislation that embodies innovative rules to favour the common good.

Already sharing certain attributes, demographically they share similar population sizes, while agriculture and tourism are vital domestic sectors of industry. Both also have a long history of suffering in the shadows of a far more dominant neighbour.

One could also argue that they both have leaders that present an inspiration for many.  Our own Leo Varadkar made positive headlines around the world when first becoming Taoiseach, for both being openly gay and the son of an immigrant. While New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is unmarried but in long term relationship, has likewise proven to be an inspiration by becoming the first elected leader ever to take maternity leave. Both speak to and represent a modern electorate that aptly reflects today’s society.

In tandem with such similarities, both countries have a tendency to make headlines across the world for the right legislative reasons. Only last week New Zealand passed legislation granting victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the developed world and this policy initiative will enable victims to leave their abusive partners, find new homes and protect themselves and their children.

Also this month saw Ireland become the world’s first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies to enable a greener transition to renewable power. The initiative had cross-party support and means our government will have to drop coal, oil and gas investments from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF). Although a small gesture in the fight against climate change, it does convey an important message globally and sets an important precedent for other counties to follow.

In 2016, New Zealand made headlines for passing legislation to ban zero-hour contracts, a move heralded as the first of its kind in the developed world. Its core aim was to stop unfair work practices which were exploitative. Our current government is proposing similar legislation through The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which will prohibit zero-hour contracts, except in specific limited circumstances.

Another mammoth commendation for Ireland was the global praise gained for legalising same-sex marriage in 2015. This was achieved through the referendum success of the yes side, which won by a huge majority. It became the first country in the world to do so by popular vote in a move hailed as a social revolution. New Zealand had previously become the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise gay marriage in 2013, through an act of parliament.

Worthy mentions should also be noted to Ireland’s past legislative endeavours, for instance when Ireland became the first country in the world to Introduce a plastic bag levy in March 2002. The effect was dramatic and immediate, as data later showed usage went from 328 bags per capita to 21 bags per capita overnight.

Only two years later, in March 2004, it became the first country in the world to introduce comprehensive legislation banning smoking in the workplace.  A pioneering policy which was quickly replicated around the globe including New Zealand that same year.

There is little doubt that despite such legislative heroics, both countries have their policy failings. Housing and health are two such issues which continues to make headlines for the wrong reasons and are high on our Governments agenda. But in an era of unstable democracy and political instability, it should be acknowledged and celebrated when smaller countries like Ireland and New Zealand are making genuine efforts to legislate for a better world.

Jason O’ Sullivan, is a Solicitor and Public Affairs Consultant at J.O.S Solicitors





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