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Jody Corcoran: Insiders rule in an unequal land

THE cast of characters may have changed, but the "insiders" remain the same, still running the country in a manner so unfair that it will, sooner or later, blow up in their faces.

They are the political classes, the trade unions and the other "social partners", who have presided over, and now defend, a massive transfer of wealth, not for the benefit of all -- which, whatever their intentions, they failed to do -- but for the enrichment of a privileged few, themselves included.

This weekend the Minister for Health will rummage down the back of a couch for loose change to protect, for another while, the most vulnerable -- the severely disabled who protested outside Government Buildings overnight.

Elsewhere, a young mother who needs full-time care assistance for her young son pleads that if only she could get two nights' sleep -- two nights -- her family might cope.

The opposition, in the way of the expedient, target the hapless James Reilly for fleeting political advantage, but fail to call out one of the root causes of the current phase of this crisis. The Croke Park Agreement, the bastard child of social partnership and benchmarking, is forcing upon the majority of citizens inequalities so profound that it brings only shame upon those who benefit.

Cui bono?

The people who contrived this sham, the political classes, the trade unions, the "social partners", the quango kings and queens, the "insiders" who brought us Fas, the banks and bullshitters and all of the rest of them, who have destroyed the country, all of them in hock to, or in cahoots with, the public sector, which controls the levers of power through implicit threat.

And they do so with a brazen disregard for the truth.

Take last week...

The Taoiseach praises the courage of Dr Reilly for reversing a decision which the latter says he did not take; and Brendan Howlin says Croke Park is working, points to questionable savings the IMF would take issue with, and declares that Croke Park is -- you have to laugh -- the envy of Europe.

Last Thursday Howlin issued another glossy report, the time being "opportune", he said, to "consider" the progress that had been made. Much of the report is auld guff.

The history books will tell us that the economic crisis slid its first tendrils into our lives in the latter half of 2006.

In 2001 the public sector was, on average, earning 13 per cent more than the private sector, before, not after, its lucrative pensions were taken in account.

In the years 2001-06, the "social partnership" process transferred to the public sector pay rises of 62 per cent -- 25 per cent more than in the private sector.

Last week it was revealed that, on average, they are now paid over 50 per cent more than workers in the private sector, around €1,200 or so a month, on average.

Howlin was talking about "progress" on the implementation of his "Public Service Reform Plan", launched to great fanfare just over nine months ago. That is, just over five years into the crisis; that is, 11 years after all of this was supposed to happen under benchmarking.

He pointed to questionable "savings", but failed to address what Reilly has called the "elephant in the room": in health and education, 80 per cent of spending goes on pay.

The entire shambles has actually sounded the death knell of the trade union movement.

After 24 years of social partnership, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) says that union penetration is highly imbalanced; the density approaches 80 per cent in the public sector but just 20 per cent in the private sector.

Union members are more likely to be over 45, married with children, Irish-born with third-level qualifications and working in semi-professional occupations, especially in health, education or public administration.

The cloth-cap, lower-paid vulnerable, low-skilled workers can go to hell, it seems, like the disabled, the vulnerable and society at large.

The CSO also tells us that those over 40, employed in schools, obtained the highest average-value equity release loans during the boom period 2005-2007, an average of €76,099 in 2005.

So they partied hard, after all, leveraging from the banks

and the builders, and now the rest of us are picking up the tab.

Howlin's 29-page report, with a separate six pages of full-colour "spin", was chock-full of enthusiastic buzz words designed to fool you. The Croke Park Agreement was a "key enabler" of the "many changes" that were "set out" in the reform plan.

Set out?

"There is a need to build on that early momentum," he said, with a straight face, six years into the crisis, 11 years after benchmarking, 24 years after "social partnership".

Meanwhile, the "outsiders" are at a loss.

Over on InsolvencyJournal.ie, notices have been posted for 23 companies this month alone, some household names, but mostly companies you have never heard of.

The website, maintained by insolvency specialists, Kavanagh Fennell, shows that the crisis still wreaks havoc in the private sector.

In fact, it is getting worse: construction, services, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, motor, IT, transport, wholesale and other industries remain on their knees.

In five of the first seven months of this year, the total number of insolvencies outstripped the total number for the same period in 2010. Each capitulation represents a devastating failure for the people behind these companies, who set them up, who ran them, who tried to survive, and also a shattering blow for their workers, a handful of people here and there.

And boy do they add up...

The day before Howlin launched his glossy brochure, the CSO issued Live Register figures for August, the month the "insiders" went on holiday.

There are now 201,513 unemployed for a year or more, which is more than half (54.6 per cent) of those on the Live Register: the unemployment rate is now 14.7 per cent; when this Government came to office it was 14.3 per cent.

The man who was supposed to do something about it, Richard Bruton, sits back as Enda Kenny waltzes around a jellybean factory to tell us how brave his Health Minister is to reverse a cut the Health Minister says he never made.

In fact, the Government, as a whole, was supposed to do something -- "jobs, jobs, jobs" was the Fine Gael mantra before the Coalition came to office in March 2011.

Bruton launched a Jobs Initiative within a month and, this year, launched it again, raiding the ransacked pensions of the private sector -- stealing our money -- with which to fool us.

Last Thursday the Jobs Minister issued a press release to do with some European Directive or other, to protect consumer rights on online transactions, I think it was.

Bord Gais, meanwhile, is to put up the price of gas by 8.5 per cent for domestic users and between five and seven per cent for business users.

Which was one of the points addressed by Isme in response to the "awful" job-less figures.

Isme is the representative body for the medium and small enterprises, the likes of which feature in InsolvencyJournal.ie

It called for a "focus on cost competitiveness, with a concerted effort to tackle local charges, energy, rents, transport costs and red tape"; and also policies to address "the lack of bank credit available in the economy".

Isme is not an insider organisation; it does not take tea, or pints, with the trade union oligarchs, or the other pillars of the "social partnership" -- do not forget the construction federation -- and then stroll across the road to Government Buildings for a spot of negotiation.

No, that job fell to Ibec, the business and employers confederation, bankrolled by the banks, and representative of the semi-states, during the heady days of a partnership which helped contrive the benchmarking scam and then this Croke Park lark.

Between 2001 and 2008 that contrivance brought about average pay increases of 61 per cent across the public sector.

The seventh social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, concluded in June 2006 with pay terms to run to early 2008 which provided cumulative wage increases at 10.4 per cent over 27 months.

The second stage of Towards 2016 was agreed in September 2008 -- that is, two years after it was becoming clear the country was in the grip of an economic crisis, the likes of which had never been seen before, which provided for a six per cent pay increase over a 21-month period.

Leaving aside the pension levy, the mechanism by which they pay for their own retirement, the pay gap between the public and private sector is now 50.3 per cent, according to the CSO, when you take Ibec's semi-states into account.

Meanwhile, more than 200,000 from the private sector are on the dole for more than a year; their pensions have been plundered and the services they pay for are being attacked.

But the pay and perks, increments and allowances, transferred by the "insiders" to buy off the one-trick pony that is the public sector unions remain intact, untouched, untouchable until 2014 and -- mark my words -- after that too.

Last Thursday, as Howlin launched his glossy brochure, the IMF said recovery here was "tentative", the economy "fragile", unemployment "unacceptably high". In other words, the Government is deluding itself, and us, with all of the "spin" of the kind you get in a glossy brochure.

Sunday Independent