There has been much talk of privatising Irish Water. But if Irish Water more closely resembled a real private firm in the age of its staff, management size and its degree of unionisation, it might be a lot less unpopular.
As the latest CSO data on earnings show, differences in trade union power, staff age and workforce composition help to explain a huge gap between public and private sector pay: average private sector weekly earnings now stand at €605 compared with public sector earnings of €905.
As the Irish Water saga has demonstrated, public anger is caused as much by the new tax as by the perception that it funds a top-heavy, older (some are local authority retirees), privileged workforce who have used union muscle to obtain conditions private sector workers can only dream of. And to hire staff without competitive interviews.
Most of us see this culture as utterly unacceptable, and this has prompted an unprecedented political crisis. But the CSO seems to regard these concerns as "inappropriate". A footnote in its latest Quarterly Earnings Bulletin describes the presence of such factors in the reported pay gap figure as "not an appropriate tool to assess the public/private sector wage gap".
The other half might earn 50pc more than us. But they are older, in trade unions and in management grades. So suck it up.
But as even the General Secretary of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants, Dave Thomas, has admitted, the ageing of the civil service is "a major future challenge" to be addressed "as a matter of urgency".
But so far the only response seems to be more of the same. News last week that 85 HSE managers will keep their top-up pay, together with news that yet more executive positions will be created in a HSE with already 17,000 administrative workers, shows the impact an older unionised culture has on staff costs. Little wonder Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy pointed to the HSE when warning that Irish Water was becoming unreformable.
Coincidentally, last week also saw the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) publish its latest report on public sector reform. As it points out, there are 10 fewer public servants per 1,000 of the population now than in 2008, partly due to population growth, but also because of 30,000 public sector jobs being axed.
But as the Quarterly National Household Survey (which was also released last week) shows, we already had a lower share of public jobs in the labour workforce than the EU average. This is because in other EU countries public pay is below private pay, thus allowing them to have more public workers. So what the IPA cite as a positive is actually a negative.
Another finding in the report is that "only in Finland is bureaucracy seen as less burdensome to business". But respondents to this question were multinational firms and not SMEs - SMEs who employ 70pc of our workforce and who feel very differently about the burden of bureaucracy. Finally, retail sales data show the domestic demand declining despite overall growth. Far from being "inappropriate" the CSO's pay gap data may be the very reason why our recovery is being accompanied by so much public anger: maybe all those younger, non-unionised non-management private sector workers are paying too many taxes to fund older, unionised management workers to spend any money.