Friday 24 November 2017

Bertie's biggest mistake was social partnership – Martin

Micheal Martin
Micheal Martin
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin admits he praised public sector pay deals while in cabinet, even though he now says social partnership was former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's "greatest mistake".

Mr Martin, who served in the big spending departments of health and education under Mr Ahern, said: "The conventional wisdom at the time was supportive of social partnership."

He told RTE Radio's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' that Mr Ahern's "unquestioning faith" in the pay deals' process was his former leader's "greatest mistake".

But he later admitted he made speeches praising the deals, which fixed wage levels to achieve industrial peace.

Mr Ahern was one of the architects of the social partnership process, and he negotiated the first deal as Minister for Labour in 1987.

The pay agreements have been criticised since the crash, particularly the process of benchmarking.

Benchmarking was meant to link private and public sector wages, but was compared to an ATM for public sector workers. Fine Gael's Richard Bruton questioned it at the time.

The public sector wanted to be paid the same as the private sector, but without the same terms and conditions, while retaining their job security and pension entitlements.

And Mr Martin (pictured above) said of his former leader's faith in social partnership: "It was fine in '87, the model was never adjusted.

"In retrospect, it was not well-equipped for the (boom) period. It didn't adapt properly.

"I don't think it was specifically equipped to deal with better times; it was something that was conceived in difficult times in the late '80s and I don't think during the boom period that it was equipped or the right mechanism to deal with what arose then."

Mr Martin claimed this was his main concern about the Ahern years, and added he "would never have been an advocate for the massive tax reductions that happened".

But Mr Martin said "as a leader of government and cabinet" Mr Ahern "achieved a lot", adding the Good Friday Agreement was his greatest achievement.

Mr Martin said there wouldn't be a peace deal if it wasn't for Mr Ahern's "zeal" and many more people would have died without his efforts.

The Fianna Fail leader also defended the controversial blanket bank guarantee as the "least worst option" available to stop a banking collapse.

He also said there was a view before the crash that there would be a soft landing, although this would never materialise.

Mr Martin was in cabinet when the bank guarantee was introduced five years ago, and said it had since been proven that allowing banks to fail and burning bondholders would not be entertained by the European Central Bank (ECB).

"The ECB post-Lehmans were not supporting any bank failing or any bondholders being burned," he said.

Mr Martin said he would have "major problems" going into power with Sinn Fein, while not ruling it out; and added that the civil war split between Fianna Fail and FG was long gone.

Irish Independent

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