'Special' public pay cases will risk wrecking our fragile economy post-Brexit
We can all check our prejudices and decide who - if anyone - in the public sector deserves a pay rise.
Should it be the gardaí, who often work at risk to personal safety? What about nurses, who can literally save lives? Or teachers, who shape future generations? And maybe there are other unsung public service workers who need and deserve a rise? But rather like the parents of a large family, ministers must appear to treat all their children equally. Otherwise the fragile fabric of the public service pay deals could quickly unravel. Ministers facing up to gardaí, teachers, nurses and whatever other groups, are under no illusions here: any "special deals" awarded to one group - must be applied across the board. That cannot happen.
Now Budget 2017 has been agreed, the real challenge for this minority Coalition is public service pay policy under pressure after seven years of continual cuts.
Fianna Fáil, underpinning the Coalition, might cosy up to one or other of the public service unions. That is exactly what Fianna Fáil did in opposition in the mid-1980s when teachers were fighting for pay increases. Watch Micheál Martin and his colleagues as we face into turmoil in November.
After the modest €1.3bn Budget giveaway, the Government insisted it would still continue cutting deficit and debt in line with EU obligations. But it assumes the more modest 3.5pc growth rate next year - given early fallout from Brexit that might be optimistic.
The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) yesterday followed the rank-and-file officers in the Garda Representative Association (GRA). Both groups will withdraw labour on four Fridays next month.
But AGSI also decided to up the ante with a work-to-rule next Friday and Friday week. This is a straight head-to-head between gardaí and government.
The GRA and AGSI are unhappy about pay and conditions and things are complicated by the GRA being outside the Lansdowne Road Agreement, which involves a phased restoration of public pay cuts.
Both garda representative groups are getting a favourable hearing from Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, on demands for better union rights - but the minister must take a tougher stance on pay increases.
Our secondary schools will very likely also be hit by industrial action. Education Minister Richard Bruton has offered talks but the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has already voted for seven strikes in the coming three months.
ASTI also decided to withdraw from supervision and substitution duties from Monday, November 7. The union demands an unconditional process and their position is complicated by also being outside the Lansdowne Road deal.
The Education Department has conceded the difficulties of fixing alternative supervision arrangements. The need for garda vetting of people working with young students means health and safety considerations may lead to the mass closure of secondary schools.
Fasten your seatbelts. Tough times a'coming.