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'Spirit of Dunkirk' sentiment is needed in these dire times not ridiculous retirement packages

Are you happy with the standard and content of the debate for the election? I'm not. For a start agriculture has got little mention in the national media debates.

When it did come up in the TG4 leaders debate, Enda Kenny appeared unaware of Food Harvest 2020 or even the numbers working in farming and agribusiness. Micheál Martin and Eamon Gilmore paid superficial homage to the subject.

My greatest concern is that homemade blunders which triggered our economic collapse and budget deficit are not being tackled. Yet I believe that the Irish people are crying out for a Government that is prepared to address the blunders of the past decade.

Election candidates tell me that the greatest fury is directed towards the continued largesse showered on the privileged sectors of our society despite the dire state of the Irish economy.

The huge lump sums and pensions due to retiring politicians are especially galling given that these are the people who led us into the crisis. Ex-ministers Dermot Ahern, Michael Woods, Rory O'Hanlon, and Noel Dempsey are each due lump sums of €328,500 coupled with a pension of €111,100 per annum.

Other entitlements include €186,200 lump sum and €33,900/yr pension for Beverley Flynn, €388,900 and €156,000 for Bertie Ahern, €268,400, and €73,000 for his brother Noel. The list goes on...

Opposition politicians too are on the gravy train. Retiree Bernard Allen (FG) is due €274,000 and €64,500/yr, Michael D Higgins (Lab) is due €328,500 and €80,900/yr. Arthur Morgan (SF) is due €129,800 and €22,542 a year after only nine years in the Dáil. Every public and civil servant who retires gets a similar windfall. All of these payments are artificially boosted because they are based on inflated salaries conceded during the Celtic Bubble. I refer to the fallout from benchmarking and national partnership deals.

Notice the numbers of politicians/ public and civil servants who are retiring early just in case good governance takes over and the gravy train is stopped. Or alternatively, international lenders stop lending to us and Government cheques start bouncing.

Has the penny not dropped that our country is broke? That every cent of the largesse adds to the borrowing, adds to the National Debt and deprives the real needy in our society. As a country we continue to spend €300m a week more than we earn. To be fair to the outgoing government they were no different from the rest of society.

We nearly all bought into the illusion of endless prosperity in the first half of the noughties. In the 2007 election Fine Gael and Labour were still promising lots of goodies too.

But from early 2008 there was no doubt but that the party was over. The banks were beginning to crumble and the huge budget deficit opened. This was the time for early intervention and forceful positive leadership. This was the time to row back on the spending blunders of the previous decade.

Yet what do we find? Incredibly, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his government copper fastened the blunders by agreeing to the Croke Park deal. This agreement with the unions rules out pay cuts or compulsory redundancies for public servants in return for a woolly promise that savings could be made through efficiencies.

Contrast this with Latvia, another state which had to call in the International Monetary Fund following an 18pc contraction in GDP and unemployment rising to 20pc. In Latvia, the public sector took a 45pc pay cut, while 5pc to 30pc wage cuts were imposed in the private sector.

This led to uproar from universities and the protected sector but the cuts were imposed. Their economy has turned the corner and people are back investing in Latvia.

And irony of ironies; the governing party that imposed the cuts were returned back to office last year.

I believe that Irish civil and public servants would welcome good leadership provided it is fair. They too are interested in an economy that can compete, that is not saddled with debt and where there are prospects of employment for our children. There is patriotism and idealism left in Ireland but it must be tapped and fostered.

Between 2000 and 2008 the Irish Consumer Price Index rose by 28pc. Over the same period income increases were:

  • Civil servants -- €573 to €916/wk, up 60pc;
  • Commercial semi-state employees -- €632 to €1,068/wk, up 68pc;
  • Local authority staff -- €494 to €887/wk, up 68pc;
  • Secondary teachers -- €685 to €1,078/wk, up 56pc;
  • University lecturers -- €627 to €1,064/wk, up 69pc.

In contrast farm incomes over this period rose only 3.5pc, which in real terms was a 24pc fall.

If, in 2008, Taoiseach Cowen had gone on national TV and appealed for support, promised to eliminate waste and prioritise spending, and led by example by cutting his salary by 50pc, we might have weathered the storm.

Banks were a problem but if people recovered confidence and believed the worst was over, they would start spending again from their €80bn of reported savings. A recovery in property value would halt the banking rot which in turn would transform the overall scene.

Tinkering at the edges will not get us out of our economic mess. We need a "Spirit of Dunkirk" approach.

My final thought; at least the politicians that led us into the economic mess can be booted out. What about the officials of the State that were asleep at the wheel? In conscience, they should at least hand back their ridiculously over generous retirement packages.

Indo Farming