Sunday 22 October 2017

Television Review: So, what's a decent wage for a 'good' person

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The Week in Politics (RTE1)

Ireland v New Zealand (RTE2)

All that unpleasantness about "top-ups" for executives in the Health Service – it's actually worse than you think.

There is a deeper problem. A problem far more troubling than anything we have heard already about an extra forty or fifty grand in remuneration for those who are already remunerated up to the gills.

No, it's deeper than that. And while we always welcome a look at the deeper problems, we never expect to find that level of profundity in The Week In Politics. But hey, that's where we found it.

We started to get a sense that this was no ordinary episode when a Fine Gael councillor, Ruairi McGinley, told reporter Micheal Lehane that in his view, the basic 110 grand a year that the chief executive of Crumlin Hospital was getting was clearly too low.

Now this was impressive. While the more shallow commentators were getting distracted by the "top-ups" from the hospital shop, the councillor was looking beyond that, to the darker malaise in the health service and probably in other areas of the public service too.

I suppose we've all known it deep down, but with this report, finally it was coming out – we have an increasingly serious problem now, due to pay restrictions at the highest levels of the public service.

That would be pay restrictions. At the highest levels. Of the public service.

Now we were approaching the hard reality which most of us have been trying to avoid – these days, some of the people at the very top of the public service have actually fallen behind their counterparts in the private sector.

Soon we were looking at Professor Philip O'Connell of the Geary Institute at UCD giving us an intellectual framework for this analysis. According to the professor it is becoming difficult to reward people for making a big effort, for being highly skilled, because in the course of cutting progressively and redressing the imbalances between the public and the private sector, "we've thrown away our ability to reward good people".

I take his point, but to that I would add a point of my own. If we have indeed thrown away that ability, then we have surely retained our ability to reward the top people, whether they're good or not.

Or have we? Is that too becoming one of the lost arts of Ireland?

You wouldn't think it, with the response of the multitudes to the "top-ups".

But then we arrive at the troubling question, of what we mean by "good" people? I know a few people who are good at what they do – indeed they are very good, and their work is of great importance – and these good people have never been rewarded with anything remotely approaching the six-figure salaries that are now considered inadequate for those other good people.

Not only that, but my good people make a big effort as a normal part of the service, and nobody is giving them an extra fifty grand a year, nobody is worrying about them, or whether we have lost our ability to reward them – perhaps because we never had that ability in the first place.

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And yet, if your name is Paddy, there are certain fundamental truths which apply to all. The way in which Ireland lost to the All Blacks showed that even our rugby men – with generations of private schooling and rewarding the top people and all that crack behind them – even they must accept that they are Paddy.

They can try to get away from it, but at that moment of supreme truth, when they can either beat the All Blacks or lose to them, they will lose. Always, they will lose, not because of anything to do with rugby, but because they are Paddy.

Those last moments at the Aviva, with the All Blacks getting not one, but two kicks to win, should be viewed as the perfect exposition of some basic malfunction in the nature of Paddy, the way that the guys seemingly felt that they were compelled to lose – just as the All Blacks felt they were bound to win.

For Ireland not to lose in that situation was somehow unimaginable – so they found a way.

Self-destruction is what we know, it is what we do.

Even the top people do that for free.

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