Pay protests don't scare Healy-Rae
Kerry TD condemns tactics of new public-sector pressure group
Published 07/03/2010 | 05:00
Colourful Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae has said he's "not one bit afraid" of a vocal pressure group of public-sector workers, many of them college lecturers, and has defended his "work record".
The in-your-face tactics of the Kerry Public Service Workers Alliance (KPSWA), which is now threatening to run candidates in the next general election, has shocked local politicians.
Last Friday night, a group of about 60 public-sector workers gathered outside the constituency office of former Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue in Killarney town centre.
The group, which included long-serving gardai, teachers, nurses, ambulance workers and civil servants from offices of the Department of Justice, as well as social welfare workers, is demanding an unconditional reversal of pay cuts.
When Mr O'Donoghue refused to meet with them all, Cormac Williams, a psychiatric nurse said: "This man is hiding."
Mr O'Donoghue's assistant, Colin Miller, told them that Mr O'Donoghue would meet with a delegation of five people. "That is the offer," Mr Miller said. However, it was roundly rejected .
After a similar demonstration by the same group, the cap-wearing Independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae said: "I got rid of them and I'm not sorry. They arrived with microphones and bad photos of me," Mr Healy-Rae said, claiming they "crowded" around him and their tactics were "very low".
"They are welcome to run any candidate they want as far as I'm concerned. The first thing any one will do is look at their work record.
"We'll stand on our record, both Michael [his son and the candidate for his seat at the next election] and myself," Mr Healy-Rae thundered.
The group has also had angry exchanges with the Fianna Fail Kerry North TD Tom McEllistrim, and there were two protests over consecutive weekends outside his clinics at Listowel and Tralee when McEllistrim was called on to resign the Government whip and support the workers in the county.
Since its formal launch in early February in Tralee, the KPSWA -- the most prominent members of which are drawn from the Teachers Union of Ireland staff at the Institute of Technology Tralee -- has targeted the clinics of all Kerry TDs.
Sometimes up to 130 angry picket-carrying public-sector workers including gardai, nurses, council employees and above all IT Tralee lecturers have loudly confronted Kerry TDs, demanding a commitment to reverse the pension levy and other cuts.
Much to his embarrassment, Jackie Healy-Rae's admission that he was "powerless" to reverse the cuts was trumpeted across video clips and in press releases and ultimately on RTE.
"I haven't the power to stop it, I've no power, I've one single vote," stated Mr Healy-Rae in response to an angry group of workers who questioned him at length about pay cuts, the staff embargo, unemployment for nurses and cuts in the local health service.
Almost 25 per cent of workers in Killarney are public servants. The figure in Tralee, an unemployment blackspot, is higher, with almost 40 per cent of workers there employed in the public service.
Simon Quinn, a finance lecturer at the Institute of Technology Tralee, says that while the alliance is drawn from unions -- Siptu, Impact, TUI, PSEU, CPSU, PNA and GRA -- union bosses themselves also have much to fear from it.
Mr Quinn says what they are doing marks a return to old-style, churchgate democracy where TDs were challenged about their views. He says politicians now are not used to being challenged.
"We were polite, if anything," he said of the encounter with Mr Healy-Rae.
Mr Quinn openly claims that what is emerging in Kerry also is a new type of grassroots trade unionism, of trying to work from the bottom up rather than the top down and dispensing with the history of almost two decades of "doing deals and nothing else".
"A lot of public service workers have no local branches. We are in the TUI and we have a local branch in the college. But other union members feel decisions are being made centrally." Public servants feel not enough is being done by the unions to reverse the cuts, he said.
"We want to spread this outside Kerry. We have had people from Cork looking at how we have set up," he warned.