Some signs of hope on talks
THE stark choices facing the country were neatly summed up by the general secretary of the ICTU, David Begg, as government officials and public service unions agreed to start talking to each other.
Intensive negotiations are to begin on Monday and, hopefully, they will continue for the full two weeks and will end in an agreement that is good for the country and good for all its people -- whether they be public or private sector workers, people who have lost their jobs and look forward to working again as soon as possible, or young people who badly need a shot of optimism.
David Begg said a breakdown in talks would create a poor perception of the country, whereas if the markets could see Ireland resolving its difficulties, perhaps even more efficiently than some other EU countries, it would create a very positive impression.
Mr Begg knows what he is talking about.
Developments in this country are being closely monitored and any perceived deviation from the agreed recovery plan will be punished by, at the very least, a higher charge for national borrowings.
Even as the threat of increased industrial action hangs over schools, hospitals and basic services, the Government must keep borrowing more than €50m a day, primarily to pay public servants' wages.
Those public servants, angry at the pay cuts imposed on them, have been working to rule for two months now and, next week, things are set to grow worse, with threats of strikes by teachers, hospital staff, civil servants and others.
Even now, a two-day strike at seven Dublin hospitals is planned for next month, although a senior union official has suggested there is still time to call it off.
This is no time to attempt to prejudge the course the talks may take over the next two weeks, although the fact that a deal of preparatory work has been done behind the scenes is a good omen, as is the opinion of the chief executive of the Labour Relations Commission that all sides appear eager to do business.
Were the unions to defer next week's escalation of industrial action it would be seen as a positive action, taken from a position of strength, not a sign of weakness.