Friday 6 December 2019

Kevin Myers: Those state employees charged with reducing unemployment are effectively on paid strike

Kevin Myers

THERE he was, on the front page last Friday, advertising Newbridge Silver: yes, Ronan O'Gara, out-half and occasional letter writer to this newspaper. However, the issue today is not him, but his paymaster, Newbridge Silver.

The company showrooms really will reward a visit, for they are a perfect example of how a versatile management with a wide range of good products can weather even the most terrible of storms.

And Newbridge's decision to stick with the public image of Ronan O'Gara tells you a great deal about why Newbridge Silver will emerge from this crisis, not merely intact, but probably stronger.

Survival is not just about acumen, but it is also about loyalty: it is about the creation of an image, and the use of that image, and Ronan O'Gara fits the Newbridge bill perfectly. (So no more mad attempts at last- minute glory, Ronan, like with that wild pass last Saturday, just as you did on the Lions' tour, okay? Otherwise, your historic reputation as one of the greatest out-halves ever is safe. And whenever a journalist says something you don't like, remember -- unlike your place in Irish rugby history -- it will be litter by mid-afternoon).

Newbridge Silver knows this simple truth. Men (apart from me) tend not to go into its show-rooms. Women do. There are two rugby faces all Irish women know, regardless of their class, stripe or kidney: Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara. And when the latter retires from international rugby, he will still be perceived by the majority, non-rugby community as the Irish out-half, for years to come. That's the nature of his youthful, enduring image. It's why he's part of the brand-image of Newbridge Silver and why Newbridge will remain a prosperous company in the cemetery that is the Irish retail industry.

And cemetery it is. Smallholders are holding their breath as the waters of the Great Depression wash over main streets and shopping centres. Bad decisions made in the pride-filled height of the boom are still to work their idiotic way through local communities. In my nearest large town of Naas, work continues on the new "town centre", though the old town centre was good enough, particularly since Kildare County Council had given planning permission for two huge retail parks on either side of the town. Both are now half-deserted, as is Naas old town centre, and meanwhile the cranes still swing above the absurd new "town centre". The only guaranteed employment in the area is in the sumptuous county council offices that are grander by far than anything Microsoft or Google would ever have built for themselves on a comparable budget.

And, of course, officials there are refusing to answer phones or issue building certificates, so paralysing what remains of the remaining building and house sales business in the area.

This is madness, the SIPTUNACY that results when the unelected are granted a permanent place at the negotiating table. Meanwhile, the traders of Naas, of Blessington, of Ballymore Eustace, of Kilcullen, and all the other communities of Ireland, must cling on in the hope that when the floodwaters subside, they are still standing. I can tell you something about those traders -- they haven't got a clue what the term "sick-leave" is. The very issue of this newspaper that bore the Ronan O'Gara ad for Newbridge Silver reported the sick-leave figures for FAS, the national employment agency, for 2007. That year, the 2,300 staff took nearly 22,500 days off "ill". That's 10 sick days per employee, or two working weeks per year. What job were these people actually doing when not lying in their beds on Mondays (the day most commonly chosen by civil-servant bugs to strike)? Because actually, there was no unemployment back then.

TO be sure, senior management had gourmet dinners to scoff and concerts to attend, courtesy of the taxpayer, and Rody Molloy had to be whisked around the world on business-class junkets. But what precisely were all these FAS employees doing in 2007, when not lying in their sickbeds, grunting, gasping and groaning, in all their solitary distress?

However, we know what they're doing now, whenever they are at work: they're not answering their phones. In the middle of the greatest economic collapse since independence, the state employees charged with reducing unemployment are effectively on paid strike. They are, of course, reflecting the ethos of the public service in which three-quarters of all government clerical officers took sick leave in 2007, with women on average taking 14 days per year. Meanwhile, the 100,000 employees of the HSE averaged 100,000 days sick leave a month.

This is the equation. The people who, three years ago at the height of the boom, were averaging at least two-weeks sick-leave a year still have paid-jobs today, only now they're not actually doing them. And those who, three years ago were in the wealth-creating industry and were taking virtually no sick-leave, are today a) struggling to stay afloat, b) unemployed or c) in Poland. The survivors of a) will be the backbone of the post-Depression economy. But how can that ever begin while the public service apparently remains determined to choke it to death, even as it struggles to survive?

kmyers@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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