Written on: 16. 11. 2011 in the category: news

Croke Park Deal

We heard a straightforward untruth yesterday with the declaration that numbers are falling in the public service. They are not. The falsehood is based on the numbers of full-time employees, down to around 300,000. But if you allow for job-sharing, in fact there are 404,200 employees in the public sector, an actual increase of 3,100 from a year ago. Moreover, average hourly pay in the public sector is €28.90. In the private sector it is €19.33. Has this government tried to reform public pay? No: only in the hapless hospitality sector, where the average pay is a dismal €12.43 per hour (just 40% of the public sector) and where Richard Bruton heroically attempted to prevent extra-pay for Sunday working. And now Joan Bruton, sword in hand, tries to cut malingering in the private sector by making employers pay for sick leave from the first working day, meanwhile ignoring the epidemic of it in the public sector. When the Swedish government abandoned sick-pay for the first-day out of work, public service “sickness” rates promptly halved. But no Irish government would ever try that.

Public sector pay in Ireland nearly tripled between 2000 and 2008, while numbers went up 22%, from 247,000 to 302,440. We have 460,000 untaxed people on the dole, and 404,000 in the public service, all – 846,000 – being maintained by the 1,147,800 PAYE employees in the private sector. The word “prudence” does not here apply.

The first stage of terminal cancer is the appearance of the tumour: the second stage is the refusal to see it.

We have a public service that is in denial. These are the antics of the loon on his deathbed.

Time is running out. Businesses are only surviving by eating into their capital. Meanwhile, we have these surreal, obscene stories about senior civil servants and county managers taking early retirement, with huge tax-free golden handshakes of maybe €350,000, and full pensions of €140,000, to which they have in reality contributed nothing throughout their careers. Quite the reverse: all those departing civil servants have been paying PRSI at half the rate of the private sector. Yet the latter vessel is heading straight for the edge of Niagara, and there will be no golden handshake, no pension, just ruin.

 

The Government has chosen to steer the politically easiest, least troublesome course: merely to administer the abominable Croke Park deal. For senior civil servants, this was not a difficult treaty to negotiate. How taxing was it to reach an agreement with trade unionists who were actually representing your own interests, supervised by the worst government in our history, and a dying minister for finance?

High taxes and an insanely high dole are driving workers into the black economy; and meanwhile, there is the toast of Stillorgan and Foxrock, the untaxed children’s allowances. We are borrowing €350 million a week to run the government, and meanwhile, delude ourselves like a cancer patient who declares the lump in the armpit is a gnat-bite.

To be sure, we have more than one illness. European ideologues insisted that a Single Europe was the only way forward, and our main parties subscribed to that “gallant-allies” argument, largely because it was a non-British option. Only dogmatic ideology could have pretended that our real interests lay alongside Portugal, Greece and Poland. Absurdly, it apparently required the visit of the Queen for an Irish-British Chamber of Commerce finally to be established, though trade between the countries runs at a billion euros a week, and Britain exports more to Ireland than it does to China, Russia and India combined. Yet there have been Irish-French, Irish-German, and God help us, Irish-Arab chambers of commerce for years – the latter, presumably, for the supply of Irish passports to foreigners with not even the most tenuously Charltonesque connections with Ireland.

And do you remember the Fianna Fail minister Mary Hanafin going to Auschwitz and quivering, that this was what would certainly happen again unless we had a united Europe? But the attempt to create a false unity out of discordant interests is far more likely to lead to fascism and hate-filled nationalism than a recognition of national realities. Yes, I would prefer that Ireland were a Hibernian Corsica, and olives grew in Offaly, but that’s not the locational card that the tectonic plates have dealt us. We have to live alongside Britain, sharing similar foods, weather, language, sport, small sibs and Big Brothers.

Not surprisingly, all those lefties in the Workers’ Party who backed the USSR in the 1980s then became Europhiles. They didn’t require evidence to support their beliefs, just ideological conviction, directed by the party-line. Now they’re in government, and form a link between Europhilia and the equally deluded dogma that the public-sector must be protected at all costs: a toxic fusion of old communism and lazy Hibernian populism. Both planks of government policy – closer relationships with the European mainland, and protection of the public sector, no matter the price – are historically doomed. If the private sector collapses, as it certainly will if this sorry cowardice continues, then so too does the Irish state. And of leadership from the Office of the Taoiseach, there is none.