Wednesday 29 January 2020

Martina Devlin: No more jigs and reels - let's see some political integrity

Dear Mattie McGrath, First let me commend you for refusing to be yoked together with the herd. Unlike your fellow backbenchers, you are not lending automatic support to a government decision which many deputies know in their hearts to be wrong.

I see you speak for rural interests, as a Tipperary South TD, according to the mission statement on your website. So far, you're no sheep.

The Government has executed a U-turn by reprieving top earners in the 'permanent government' of senior public servants from the full impact of pay cuts. You are on the record as condemning this.

Others in your party have done the same, but you are the only Fianna Fail deputy still willing to say it is wrong today -- those who stood behind you once have fallen by the wayside. Short-lived revolt over, they are back in a huddle with the rest of the flock. But you haven't been corralled by the party whips yet, Mattie, and I trust you won't let them herd you into line.

No doubt the pressure is on. You hinted at it when you spoke of a need to "accept democracy within the party" on RTE's 'Morning Ireland' yesterday. Now, stop and reflect. Is this really democracy -- or is it narrow self-interest? In which case, could it be a perversion of democracy?

You exposed a mindset when you referenced party loyalty, as though it took precedence over loyalty to country. But the Irish people matter more than any one tribe. And we are ill-served by this fundamentally scornful move to apply one law to the few at the top of the ladder, and another to the many on lower rungs.

Allowing 642 senior officials to escape the brunt of pay reductions makes a mockery of the notion we are pulling together as a nation. No wonder lower-paid public servants are on a work-to-rule.

Mattie, your attempt this week to have the exemption voted on, at a meeting of your parliamentary party, was the act of an honourable man; it's shameful you could find no one to second it.

But all is not lost. On Tuesday, Fine Gael is putting down a motion to rescind this delinquent decision. Vote with them. Show us True Grit is more than just a film starring John Wayne.

This row may seem like a storm in a teacup, with so many other hurricanes beating down upon our shores. But Brian Lenihan set out his Budget on the basis of painful but equitable cuts. He brandished a slide rule for the principle of fairness, saying those who could afford most would pay most -- except, Mattie, that principle is under erosion.

And everyone in Government seems willing to go along with it. Everyone except you. By Fianna Fail's Superglue standards, you have stuck your neck out already, but your country needs you to lead with the chin and go even further.

We know we are being peddled twaddle. What we hear from our leaders is meaningless. One day they tell us highly paid senior public servants will have salary cuts of 8pc to 12pc -- the next, they are off the hook with reductions of just 3pc to 5pc.

The Finance Minister's excuse is the loss of their bonuses, worth up to €17,000 annually. But Fine Gael's Richard Bruton contends that the Department of Finance is wrong to consider bonuses part of core salaries. That's why his party is tabling its motion -- one you can vote on, unlike your own. Act in line with your conscience and not your colleagues, Mattie.

Brian Lenihan's figures on the subject of senior civil servants have been rather variable. Initially he claimed only 160 were affected. Now it's increased fourfold to 642. But whether 642 or two, the golden rule of consistency has been debunked: we can see it's made of brass.

This might not seem like a make-or-break moment, but it is umbilical to the principle of fairness. If we concede fairness is expendable, we are lost. You can help us hold the line, Mattie.

It is rare for a backbencher to be a contributor within decision-making channels. Most arrangements are agreed at cabinet level and a government backbencher, let alone an opposition deputy, rarely shapes policy.

But your moment has arrived. Perhaps you might even encourage some of your fellows to share this opportunity. Let's have some integrity in the political process: no more jigs and reels. (Though you could probably show us some steps if so inclined, Mattie, as a former All-Ireland champion set dancer.)

I'm weary of ministers promoting the fiction of an economy on the mend -- all part of that fancy footwork into which they've hurled themselves. The Finance Minister set it in motion in his Budget speech, claiming the economy had "turned a corner".

Now we have ministers telling constituents that some restaurants are so busy you can't get a reservation, and Grafton Street is hopping with shoppers laden down with bags. This ostrich mentality is unhelpful to our recovery.

For the record, three Irish firms a day went bust last month, and the jobless rise to 12.7pc is partly down to shops and restaurants laying off staff. Stop telling us fairy tales, we know the truth is closer to Granny O'Grimm's dark vision.

My fingers are crossed you won't be drawn into this nonsensical conspiracy of peddling pie-in-the-sky optimism, Mattie. And please, stay out of the sheep pen -- help reverse the pay injustice.

Yours hopefully,

Martina Devlin

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss