Incoming Taoiseach’s response to the top 1pc getting 15pc wage increases is tone deaf
In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, it’s only proper that the Government look after the most vulnerable in society: chief executives, judges, consultants, secretaries general. They’re the most needy, some of whom haven’t been able to upgrade their S Class Mercedes in at least three years.
This morning, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar wasn’t “half way between drunk and hungover”, as Simon Coveney once accused then Taoiseach Brian Cowen after an infamous RTÉ Morning Ireland interview following a Fianna Fáil piss-up in Galway. But there must have been a bit too much sugar in the honey on the chicken wings in the Varadkar household last night. He tells his followers on social media that: “Tuesday night is wing night."
This Wednesday morning, Varadkar was bouncing all over the place with a stream of consciousness that was tone-deaf, inconsistent, out of touch, contradictory and infuriating.
The Tánaiste decided to mansplain the pay rises for the highest paid public servants in the land to the nation. There is “no emergency” and the public finances are in “rude health”. These public servants are going to be paid their increases of up to 15pc from the start of next month. To break it down, 4,000 public servants earning over €150,000 will get 10-15pc pay rises, so you’re talking €15,000 on the low end.
Meanwhile, the Government is ruling out any further cost of living assistance until October’s budget and haggling with public servants over a pay deal with an offer of 5pc over two years on the table. The Tánaiste’s attempt to wave away the high end public sector pay hikes as pro forma betrays a lack of awareness of what ordinary people are going through.
As we hit staycation season, Varadkar’s economic approach echoes Father Ted trying to explain perspective to Father Dougal in a caravan. “These are small…but those out there are far away. Small…far away.”
These fat cat pay rises are small, but those measures to help with inflation are far away.
Varadkar is stressing the importance of not chasing inflation, until October’s Budget when he’s promising tax cuts and social welfare hikes to beat the band. Caretaker Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Outgoing Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe tried valiantly this week to close the door firmly on any further inflation-countering package before October, after Varadkar had opened it up last week.
Of course, the Fine Gael leader couldn’t resist opening the door to a mini budget, if fuel goes up dramatically. Now, the level of inflation hasn’t been as highly dramatic since the days of the high drama of who shot JR Ewing on ‘Dallas’, but it’ll have to get even more dramatic for the Coalition to act to help those in actual need. Within Government circles, Varadkar’s behaviour is sometimes put down to chasing opinion poll ratings. Fine Gael’s opinion poll support is small, but the election is far away.
Besides, Varadkar says the pay hikes to senior public servants have to go through because the legal advice says so. Otherwise the Government could be challenged in the courts. When asked if this legal advice would be made public, Varadkar declared the Government “never” publishes legal advice.
Funny that, because the Government did just that last summer when Varadkar needed a bit of political cover for his attendance at a bash thrown by former minister Katherine Zappone in the Merrion Hotel. In an unprecedented move, a statement from the Government Press Office actually set out the advice of the Attorney General on whether the event was in breach of public health guidelines. The Attorney General’s advice stated that events of up to 200 people could be held in an outdoor setting, so all was above board. The Government “never” publishes legal advice – unless it suits to do so.
The latest batch of pay hikes is actually the restoration of cuts during the economic collapse, when the government of the day was really halfway between drunk and hungover. The cuts under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, known as FEMPI, have been gradually restored over the past six years, leaving just those on salaries above €150,000 – the top 1pc of the public service. Under legislation passed five years ago, the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017, it was agreed the pay for the 1pc would be restored by July 1, 2022.
Nobody could have foretold five years ago that a once in two generations level of inflation crisis would follow a global pandemic. Nonetheless, the Government was looking at deferring the pay rises again, given the current circumstances.
Despite the appalling timing, it’s not going to happen.
Finally, the incoming Taoiseach had his own road to Damascus moment as he told the nation he dislikes Dáil spats.
Clearly, this change of heart came about in the past five days as he just had the mother of all rows with Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty. Varadkar says he was standing up to bullying when he recalled Doherty was prosecuted and found guilty for abusing and mistreating a guard a quarter of a century ago. The bullying he was responding to was pointing out that he is still waiting to hear if he will be prosecuted for leaking a GP pay deal to a friend.
To paraphrase Father Ted again: the confidential document was only resting in his account.