A good week for Sinn Fein? Well I never . . .
Published 10/11/2012 | 05:00
SINN Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald has known some dark days, but she's never had to endure the vampire's kiss of praise from this columnist. Until now: for her good fortune here comes to a quite brutal end, because I thought she was splendid in the way she challenged the Government's self-serving approach to bankers' pensions this week and stuck to the task.
And it certainly wasn't good enough for the Taoiseach to retire behind lazy abuse about the hypocrisy of Gerry Adams taking Westminster allowances while remaining an absentee.
If there's anything that is truly noble and majestic about the Sinn Fein leader, it is his hypocrisy. Having led his troops through a futile war for a quarter of a century, and wasted thousands of lives, his boundless narcissism, his disdain for all the principles on which the war was fought and his shrewd nose for a surrender led to the Good Friday Agreement, and the formal abolition of both the IRA's goals and the Republic's constitutional claim to a united Ireland.
This was the equivalent of Hitler agreeing that Poland should keep Danzig, that dear old Czechoslovakia could retain the Sudetenland, and then throwing in, at Hitler's own expense, a nice holiday home for minorities and gays in the Bavarian Alps.
But let's remember the small price for this; it is that unionists may not remind us of Sinn Fein's former preference for chainsaws-on-kneecaps. They have to be polite to nice Martin McGuinness and not mention the war, or the Northern Bank, or La Mon, or Patsy Gillespie, or anything else from the Great Epoch Indefinitely Governed By Prudent Amnesia. So, what's sauce for the Northern goose should be gravy for the Southern gander. We can't expect to have two sets of rules, one for the Prods up there, and another for us lot down here: for sooner or later, one will drive the other out. I loathed and still loathe the Belfast Agreement, but it has the assent of the majority of the Irish people. The political classes that negotiated it must therefore abide by it.
The Taoiseach's reply in the Dail to Mary Lou's complaints about bankers' pensions contained one of the signal words of the English language: he said it "ill-behoves" her to lecture anyone when her party leader, Gerry Adams, et cetera, et cetera. But what does "behove" mean? It's rather like "luke" in "lukewarm". If "behove" has any function at all, it is as a rhetorical warning that a display of public pomposity is coming down the tracks.
And her main point stands. Nothing sickens and mystifies the private sector quite so much as the pensions that the state sector -- which effectively includes the upper-ranks of the banks -- is able to award itself. It was the Taoiseach himself who spoke disapprovingly about some banking pensions of €500,000, declaring: "There is a moral responsibility on individuals to deal with that."
No, there isn't. Morals and money sit in most people's consciences like topless Jewish lap-dancers and simmering imams at a Buddhist wedding party; apart. It's the responsibility of our governments to ensure that public moneys -- after all, it cost us €21bn to bail out AIB -- are not diverted into the pockets of those splendid individuals whose wisdom, prudence and foresight brought ruin on both the banks and on Ireland. The solution is not some discretionary "taxation" on the pensions, which might not even be lawful, and which anyway can be avoided by the pensioner moving to Monaco, but by a levy at source on all taxpayer-funded pensions in the banking sector.
This could be, say, 99pc over a certain threshold. It's our money, after all.
Why does the Government not contemplate this? Why did the Taoiseach treat my bosom pal Mary Lou to such a wanton display of unbridled behovery? Was it because such an initiative might set a precedent which some future and more radical government could then unleash on politicians' pensions? After all, the notional value of the Taoiseach's income, including pension, is €523,590, and the overall cost of the cabinet pensions is €36m -- even before we get (as the exquisite Mary Lou pointed out) to the vast army of civil service secretaries-general and county and city managers, all of whose €100,000-plus pensions are largely paid out of the current account. And this current account is created by taxes on the private sector, whose members are more likely to get a return Ryanair flight to Saturn complete with complimentary dinner and champagne than ever receive such pensions.
There is a fuse burning in Irish life, which Leinster House ignores at its peril. It is the fuse of private sector anger over senior level public sector pay in retirement. It behoves you to speak out for Ireland, Mary-Lou, before the bomb explodes: tiocfaidh ar la!