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Carol Hunt : Just as our debt burden has got to be revised, so must the Croke Park deal

LAST week, yet again, I was reminded of two observations from antiquity. The first a Roman saying, Fiat justitia -- ruat caelum: "Do justice though the heavens fall." The second, the observation that though courage is not in itself a primary virtue, without it, the exercise of the other virtues becomes impossible.

There are positions one can take in life or in politics which effortlessly garner support, where it does not require too much courage to be on the side of the angels against injustice.

One such example is that of the Drop The Debt campaign of which I wrote last week. It seems only rational, honourable and courageous to oppose those in positions of power who wish to saddle innocents with the debts of others. It is a good and honest argument, one worth supporting. And it certainly is a just and rational one. But there is nothing particularly courageous about fighting for such a cause -- which the majority of citizens know to be worthy.

This became most clear to me last week as I listened to Liam Doran, head of the Irish Nurses' Organisation (INO), take up the rallying cry against paying unsecured Anglo bondholders etc. And well he might. The more the merrier, I say.

But what Doran neglected to mention, in his diatribe against the injustice of Government health cuts, was the inequity, the innate unfairness and the enormous social damage being caused by his and others' blind adherence to the diktats of the Croke Park Agreement. Should we be surprised that social democrats and even die-hard socialists are fighting so hard to support a blatant injustice?

Well, yes, we should be. We deserve better from these folk. Sadly, so many -- both politicians and political commentators -- seem blinded by an ideology that is not for turning, no matter what the change in facts.

They are certain they are right. And some depict those who oppose this injustice as anti-citizen, right-wing ideologues. Look at the figures, our social democrats yell in their defence/attack: Irish public servants are paid on average the same as their counterparts abroad. And public servants are no more numerous here than elsewhere in Europe.

Well, first, the Public Sector Trends 2011 report "revealed" that our top cats were paid much more than their European counterparts. The report found a "large gap in the pay of Irish and EU senior public service managers". Ah yes, say our social democrats, but the rank and file are paid not much more than other public servants in Europe.

Which in some cases is true. However, our public servants are not living in Europe. They are living here in Ireland where they earn, on average, between 35 per cent and 50 per cent more than their private-sector counterparts.

Strangely enough, our Croke Park deal-supporting socialists never seem to mention this. Or the fact that their blind insistence on protecting one sector of society to the disadvantage of the other has led to a very big income gap between two groups doing similar jobs. If equality is supposed to be their ideological aim, they have a very odd way of demonstrating it.

Nor do they mention the pension benefits, the extra perks, the sick days and holidays that so many of our public servants are "entitled" to. And, crucially, neither do they mention the value of a "job for life", and the benefits this bestows on those lucky enough to have one (not least of which is access to credit, plus being part of a state elite with useful contacts).

Secondly, by protesting that we have a similar number of public sector workers here as in other European countries, they commit another fallacy. No one has actually denied that this is true. But the problem we have in Ireland is that, because of the Croke Park Agreement, many of our public servants are in the wrong places and there is no possibility of this major fault being rectified.

Indeed, it will only become

more acute as more and more nurses, teachers etc, take redundancy or early retirement and our public service is left with thousands of page- shuffling middle-managers not quite sure what it is they're supposed to be doing but secure in the knowledge that they can keep on doing it until they retire -- on a nice state- paid pension.

Last week, on Morning Ireland, Dun Laoghaire-Rath-

down county manager Owen Keegan articulated many of the problems resulting from the Croke Park deal.

As an example of a failed attempt to reduce annual leave, he said: "We put four proposals to reduce the leave of our staff, typically by about 10 per cent, except outdoor staff whose leave is quite modest. What emerged? There was an increase in leave for outdoor staff, no change in leave for the bulk of our staff, modest reductions at the very top and then, perversely, for those staff for whom the State has decided their leave is too high, they are to be compensated for the reduction to their leave by -- giving them more leave."

Go on, laugh. The alternative is to go violently, screamingly apoplectic with the whole insanity of it.

As Mr Keegan noted about the supposed promised reform in the public sector: "Croke Park means everybody moves at the same pace. And that has essentially, I think, been determined by those sectors which cannot move as quickly as we can."

Or by those sectors, and their supporters, who refuse to move at all, except backwards to defend their privileged positions. Many are now coming around to the idea that, just as our debt burden has got to be renegotiated, so must the Croke Park deal. It's the right thing to do, regardless of one's ideological position.

Justice is, in my opinion, the most important of all the virtues. As the political theorist John Rawls pointed out, justice is the first virtue of social institution. Justice essentially, is fairness.

And as it is rampantly unfair that unsecured bondholders should be privileged above innocent citizens and their families, so too is it unjust that State-employed citizens should be so privileged above their neighbours and friends. It isn't an either/or situation. You cannot be for one and against the other, because justice does not make exceptions. Neither approval, security or accusations of disloyalty should ever take precedence over it.

And sometimes one has to have the courage to say so. Again and again and again.


Sunday Independent