Saturday 16 December 2017

Analysis: Chameleon party shows true colours on public pay

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Picture: Arthur Carron
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Picture: Arthur Carron
John Downing

John Downing

Fianna Fáil has often gloried in travelling light politically. Over the years we have known republican Fianna Fáil, socialist Fianna Fáil, business Fianna Fáil, trade union Fianna Fáil and whatever else.

It all depended on which was the biggest crowd they could follow at any given time.

And a glance at the party's successes in the years since its foundation in 1926, until the disaster of February 2011, showed it worked.

For decades Fianna Fáil also successfully vied with Labour for the votes of lower-paid public sector workers, in Dublin especially. This was one of their big losses in their 2011 electoral meltdown.

As Ireland's most skilled political chameleons, there would have been no surprise if Fianna Fáil morphed into the public sector workers' pals endorsing pay restoration. You only have to look at what the party did on water charges.

Having been the most ardent supporters of water charges, three times publicly endorsing the principle since 2009, Fianna Fáil did a most shameless flip-flop in the run-in to the 2016 general election. Using Irish Water's considerable image problems as political cover, the party called for the abolition of the charges until the whole water system was upgraded.

That cart-before-horse water upgrade would have to be largely funded from income tax. Could we expect the same on public service pay?

No, in fact, Micheál Martin and his public service spokesman, Dara Calleary, have studiously avoided similar temptation on the issue. In fact, the Fianna Fáil leader went further than the Government, which it is underpinning, in warning that public pay restoration must be carefully managed in a most sparing fashion.

On Tuesday Mr Martin was warning that the Government had "buckled" under pressure from unions. He said the Coalition must focus on tackling spiralling rents and insurance costs - and not a faster pay restoration.

"I think pending a proper assessment in terms of Brexit, we need to be very careful we don't go down a road of a new pay agreement that we are simply not in a position to afford," Mr Martin told RTÉ's Today with Seán O'Rourke.

The Fianna Fáil leader said the Government must "stand up for the taxpayer" and ensure the Lansdowne Road Agreement, in theory due to expire in September 2018, runs its full course.

By accusing the Government of going "soft" on unions, Mr Martin prompted his Sinn Féin rival Gerry Adams to accuse him of coming over all "macho" on the issue.

There appeared to be some truth in Mr Adams's assertion as Mr Martin also took a swipe at the unions.

So, no U-turn in view on public pay by the 'Soldiers of Destiny'. Perhaps pragmatism more than high-mindedness is at play.

After all, soon enough Fianna Fáil could be leading the Government and reaping what they sow by contributing to the public pay and pensions bill.

Irish Independent

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