Tuesday 22 October 2019

Coalition must not lose courage

'Brendan Howlin has made it clear there will be no return to the old Bertie Ahern style of social partnership which evolved into the public sector equivalent of crony capitalism'
'Brendan Howlin has made it clear there will be no return to the old Bertie Ahern style of social partnership which evolved into the public sector equivalent of crony capitalism'


Fear and desire can have curious effects on the most experienced of politicians. In 2007, against all wise advice - even from his Cabinet - in a pre-election speech drenched in fear, Bertie Ahern announced a vast list of promises in a desperate attempt to secure the confidence of the country.

Though it won Ahern a pyrrhic victory, the promises made wrecked both country and party, as the attempt to seize control of the agenda saw Ahern and Fianna Fail losing it instead.

For the moment, the Coalition's eye is very much on their experience in 1997. As they wrestle with the different challenge of managing prosperity, it might be more in the Coalition's interest to learn from 2007 as distinct from 1997. It will be difficult to marry political self-interest with their obligation to create a State that is not set up to fail. Though already they face strong headwinds against that objective.

The Coalition is, for now, sticking to the moral way. Brendan Howlin has made it clear there will be no return to the old Bertie Ahern style of social partnership which evolved into the public sector equivalent of crony capitalism. The minister has also warned that those who would return us to the pork-barrel politics of benchmarking should recognise "a very finite amount of money is available".

Sometimes caution in responding to the demands of vested interests is the most courageous act of all. Sadly, this virtue has begun to waste away at the first sign of economic growth.

One of the more unfortunate features of the Celtic Tiger was the infamous 'because I'm worth it' syndrome, which evolved into the facilitator for all forms of excess. Unfortunately, when it comes to past sins, Ireland too often resembles that dim-witted French Bourbon dynasty which was so icily dismissed by Talleyrand as being incapable of forgetting or learning anything.

In an example of this, we should note that in public service in Ireland, as it was defined by social partnership, the public who pay the civil service via uniquely high taxation rates end up being the servants of their public sector masters.

Those who agitate for a return of all the old pre-bailout terms and conditions, which played such a significant role in making Ireland fiscally unsustainable, certainly fall into the Bourbon school for slow political learners. That they would attach to this the added demand that these unsustainable terms and conditions should be returned without a single concession in terms of productivity marries malice to folly.

No country benefits from a fiscally impoverished public sector. When it comes to the very real divide between our a mostly affluent public sector and the moral squalor that informs a world of zero-hour contracts for the private sector, pauperising public sector workers will not improve the world for anyone.

However, entering the public sector is not a licence to abandon all thoughts of self-improvement or civic responsibility.

No-one is conscripted to the public sector. You enter of your own free will. Social cohesion demands that as well as being properly paid, public servants give good value for money.

Unions would do well in that regard to provide us with a better school of leadership. A culture of unrestricted entitlement, whether in the public or the private sector, creates, in the long run, a fiscal desert for everyone.

The Government, meanwhile would do well to recognise the unions' task will be facilitated by courageous leadership as distinct from inept electioneering.

Quotes of the Week

"Christians must become involved in the defence and protection of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, exiled, killed, decapitated for the sole reason that they are Christians. They are our martyrs today and they are  more numerous than in the early days of Christianity."

Pope Francis.

"Those who persecute Christians are ignorant about the teachings of Islam. This can only be stopped by spreading the true teachings of Islam and eliminating the ignorance that is common among Muslims."

Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri, imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown.

"The boys want to be like them and the girls want to be with them. That's what they used to say about the Beatles and more recently, One Direction and Justin Bieber. The propaganda the terrorists put out is akin to marketing and too many of our teenagers are falling for the image. The extremists treat them in a similar way to sexual groomers."

Nazir Afzal, who has retired as a British prosecutor.

"That's what happens in wars. That's not to minimise it, that's what American soldiers do, British soldiers do, Irish republican soldiers do, that's what happens in every single conflict."

Gerry Adams, SF leader, on the murder of Jean McConville.

"If this was a war, then the execution and the death and burial of our mother and the kidnap of our mother is a war crime. If this had happened in any other conflict around the world, people would have been brought to justice for war crimes."

Michael McConville, son of Jean McConville.

"Don't be fooled, not much has changed - certainly not for women. We still live in a very sexist society that wants to limit people. Since I started I've had people giving me a hard time because they didn't think you could be sexual or have sexuality or sensuality in your work and be intelligent at the same time. For me the fight has never ended."


"Well you wouldn't go for a pint too often with Bertie because he wouldn't put his hand in his pocket…Cowen would always buy his own round, there was no difficulty there."

Pat Rabbitte, former Communications Minister.

"There is a sense of depression around the whole Catholic theme, the fact that young people are hardly going to church at all, and all the conflict around moral teaching is having a huge impact. None of this is new, it's a cumulative effect since the 1970s when I was a young priest. It started with the teaching about contraception... Of course the child abuse scandals which came after did enormous damage."

Fr Tony Flannery, liberal rebel Irish Catholic priest.

"I am told the [British] Ladies Golf Union has lost 150,000 members since equality for women came in. Hundreds of women have left golf clubs because they've gone from paying half fare to full fare. It's caused mayhem."

Peter Alliss, BBC golf guru on the effect of legally mandated gender equality in golf clubs.

"I'm so clumsy in this new world of social media sometimes. I thought these rankings were a private thing designed to tell the site the sort of books to recommend. Turns out they are public. Stupid me. Well I don't like the work of Kingsley Amis, there it is. I don't have to explain or justify. It's allowed."

Salman Rushdie, author, who gave poor ratings to some of his fellow authors.

"Boys have shorter concentration spans which means they are often perceived to be a nuisance when sat alongside girls who are often eager to please. Girls can r4eceive more praise from both teachers and parents, which motivates them. This culture can lead boys to be disaffected with learning and cause them to be attention seeking."

Patrick Wenham, Kent school headmaster, writing in the magazine of the Independent Association of British Prep Schools.

"So you've shifted …close to A$10billion (€7billion) in untaxed profits to a place you've never done business with?"

Nick Xenophon, Australian senator, quizzing Apple VP, Tony King, about the company routing profits through Ireland.

"I'm being used as the moveable feast because of gender quotas."

John O'Mahony, FG TD, who has been asked to change constituency.

"We are passengers, equal passengers. There is no lower or higher deck. We have the same rights as other countries have. The right to co-operation and the right to act in our interest. We are not a debt colony."

Alexis Tsipras, Greek PM

"The truth of the matter is: Iran's defence budget is $30billion. Our defence budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us."

President Barack Obama.

"There are no vacancies in the Department of Finance and I don't want to be bidding for someone else's job. It might be misconstrued. People tell me they appreciate my candour and the fact that I tell it straight. It is just my nature."

Leo Varadker, Minister for Health.

""How can we as keepers of the democratic revolution tolerate a situation where 3,000 children …are waiting more than a year for urgent speech and language therapy when there is talk of cutting income tax. This is immoral, economically irrational and fiscal irresponsible."

Tom Healy, Nevin Economic Research Institute.

It's the same old designers, including me, year after year. In the past couple of years it's maybe a case of the emperor having no clothes. People are seeing past it, people aren't excited as they once were about it. It needs to acknowledge the times we're living in, it needs to acknowledge who lives in this country because it's white middle class exclusively. That's just plain wrong."

Diarmuid Gavin, TV gardener.

"Some things - the Rose of Tralee, Good Friday and no drinking, the Angelus - whatever your religion, they are just part and parcel of Irish culture. It is no harm if we close the door of the pub one day apart from Christmas every year."

Ryan Tubridy, TV presenter.

"Throughout the entirety of the Northern Irish tragedy there were 3,000 deaths and average of 100 a year...In response to that conflict our State was prepared to take quite radical measures in defence of our citizens…This involved proscribing certain organisations as illegal…We do not respect a constitution right to murder of manslaughter so why should we respect a constitutional right to sell cancer-causing addictive substances, especially to youngsters in this country."

Senator John Crown, calling for tough new measures against big tobacco firms.

Sunday Independent

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