Friday 21 October 2016

SIPTU warns next Government may have to prioritise public service investment over tax cuts

Published 05/10/2015 | 20:56

Jack O'Connor
Jack O'Connor

Ireland's largest trade union warned the next Government may have to forget about tax cuts until 2023 to prioritise public service spending if the economy fails to achieve growth targets.

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SIPTU President Jack O'Connor also said that a Government formed solely by right wing parties would be a disaster for Irish workers and those dependent on the State.

"It (the future) means taking brave decisions," he told the trade union's biennial conference in Cork.

"It means prioritising investment in public health, housing, education, eldercare and childcare over cutting taxes," he said.

"It could well mean forgetting about tax cuts altogether for a period of five to seven years if the economy fails to grow at an average rate of 3pc in real terms."

Mr O’Connor added that he was very concerned at “a poverty of ambition” amongst Ireland’s left wing parties that they can not only do well in the forthcoming general election but can effectively win if united.

He also acknowledged that Ireland’s left wing parties need to build new alliances given the emergence of independents and the changing political landscape.

His warning came as the SIPTU boss said the union will have to think very carefully on a motion for the 200,000 member body to sever its political and financial ties to the Labour Party.

A motion has been tabled by SIPTU’s education sector for the union to end its exclusive links with the Labour Party given the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition’s support of austerity, water charges and State asset sell-offs since 2011.

The proposal will be formally voted on by the union on Wednesday at the conference attended by more than 350 delegates.

However, Mr O’Connor sounded a warning over the possible consequences.

“There will be a democratic debate on this. Really, what I think has to be faced up to here is whether it is feasible to achieve the objective of a left-of-centre government which, remember, we have never had here in Ireland.”

“Or whether there is a risk, in trying to achieve this objective, you end up giving the right in Ireland a monopoly of power.”

“This would be the worst possible thing that could happen to working people in Ireland and people who depend on public services.”

“Every time the right has had a monopoly on power in Ireland they have made a mess of things.”

Mr O’Connor stressed he did not want to influence the debate with his personal views.

But he confirmed that he will remain a member of the Labour Party and will vote for Labour in the forthcoming general election.

“I will be voting for the Labour Party, I am a member of the Labour Party and I have never considered leaving the party. I never will leave the party.”

The union leader said Ireland’s left wing parties now need work together given the implications of any right wing government in the 32nd Dail.

“We have to build alliances on the left in Ireland. We have to work together with the independent left and any parties that believe they are on the left.”

“My concern is that that work is not sufficiently progressed enough to offer a cohesive alternative to the people in the forthcoming election.”

 “Frankly, my fear is that in trying to achieve it there is a very real danger that we will allow the right in on their own.”

 “I honestly believe that if the people on the left believed that they could win, they could provide a viable alternative. But I think there is a poverty of ambition on the left. There is a refusal to believe that collectively we could win.”

Mr O’Connor’s address came as the giant union stages key discussions on social partnership and their political affiliations over the next three days.

The latter has assumed major significance for the Labour Party given the impending general election.

The key items on Tuesday will include zero hour contracts, the living wage, social partnership and collective bargaining.

The session on Wednesday will be dominated by SIPTU’s political affiliation and the union’s political fund.

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