Today, following the failure of the Social Partners to agree details of pay cuts, the government announced a pensions levy on the salaries of all public service employees. This will work out on average at about an extra 7.5% deduction, though higher-paid workers will pay higher percentages.
Now, ninety per cent of a large number is still a large number, and a top civil servant, who was formerly earning 250 thousand, will no doubt be able to struggle by somehow on the remaining 225 thousand. But I’m not that interested in highly-paid people who can look after themselves. You see, at the other end of the scale, a reduction in a small number produces an even smaller number and I’m wondering this: what about the street-sweepers? Or the road labourers? Or the junior clerk who checks your books out of the library? These are the members of the working poor, and they are not the ones who brought about the current financial crisis in Ireland.
These are not the people who stupidly remortgaged their homes to buy apartments in Bulgaria. These are not the people who took out mortgages greater than the value of their house so that they could buy fancy cars. These are not the ones who squirreled away €120 million in secret loans, discrediting and destabilising the banking system in the process. These are far from Masters of the Universe.
While a top health service administrator might have to economise, the cuts in his salary are only biting into fat, but cuts at the bottom end of the scale are eating into bone. It costs the same to heat a poor man’s house as it does to heat a rich man’s and there are many families in this country without any room at all to economise because they simply don’t have luxuries to give up.
Higher on the salary scale a little bit, you’ve seen me writing here about nurses’ pay in the past. I think these people have been disgracefully treated, patronised, bullied and intimidated into covering for the shortcomings of a failed, misconceived health structure. They’ve been exposed to moral blackmail in order to prop up a disastrously inefficient administrative tangle. And now these people will be demonised and blamed for the financial mismanagement of this country, which was created by this appalling government and its cronies in the banks and the construction industry. I could make similar points in defence of firefighters, paramedics or even our police, much though I’ve criticised them in the past.
I won’t call what happened in Ireland an unholy alliance. I’ll call it what it was: a criminal conspiracy to bleed this country dry. It worked, and now we need scapegoats, but we won’t be blaming the red-nosed, drooling builders in the Fianna Fáil money-tent at the Galway races. Nor will we be blaming these same politicians who presided year by year over unprecedented exchequer returns, and who refused to acknowledge the reality of the bubble these returns were based on, in case it hurt their builder buddies and interrupted the kickbacks. Nor will we be blaming the bankers who shovelled out 110% loans to fools and collected their fat bonuses in return. No indeed. We won’t be blaming those who run our banks and who should right now be in jail but who, instead, are being given the pensions of the street sweepers and the nurses to bail them out.
We need scapegoats, so let’s blame people like firemen, police, paramedics, nurses, junior doctors, library assistants, street cleaners, home helps and all the other high rollers.
And while we’re at it, let’s blame the workers in places like Waterford Crystal, and Dell, and Banta for getting a living wage. Let’s accuse them of greed.
But let’s say nothing about our Prime Minister who pays himself more than the President of the USA, or the hospital consultants who keep our health service in a money-making stranglehold, aided and abetted by their ideological allies, the PDs. Nor should we say anything about these Tribunal lawyers who demanded and got €2000 per day and who were given the right to decide how long the tribunals would go on, and how much waffling they chose to do, at â€2000 per day. Let’s not talk about that.
And let’s not blame a government that spent €50 million on an unworkable electronic voting system, or €200 million on an IT system for the health service that didn’t work. Small money, as Minister Noel Dempsey might have remarked.
And let’s not ask energy multinationals to pay anything for our natural gas reserves, but instead let’s deploy 200 policemen to beat protesters out of the road.
And let’s not ask why this government gave away our national telecommunications network for half nothing to an asset stripper, leaving us helpless to introduce effective broadband at a time when we vitally need it.
And let’s not ask clerical sex abusers to pick up the billion-euro tab for compensating their victims, or make them sell their lands or their gold or their art treasures. No indeed. Instead let the taxpayer come up with the money.
This country is full of self-serving cabals, secret societies and vested interests who have held it by the throat since its birth. For a while, many ordinary workers naively bought into a dream, actively promoted by this government, that they might somehow share in the riches controlled by these small groups, these few elite families, these anointed. And the fools went and mortgaged their houses, bought their Spanish villas and convinced themselves they were high rollers too, until reality came crashing down on them as it had to in the end when the upside-down pyramid toppled over.
And now, they’re losing their jobs. They’re losing their houses. They’re losing their minds.
But let’s not blame the millionaires, or the billionaires, the bankers, the lawyers or the political apes who decided the direction of our economy and who poured away ten years of unimaginable prosperity, cynically purchasing one election after another.
No. Let’s not look in that direction. Instead, let’s pin the blame on the nurses and the teachers and the firemen. Let’s stick it to the factory workers and the shop assistants