Government ‘Divide & Conqueror’ Strategy to Test the Resolve of Public Sector Unions

A successor to the ‘Croke Park Agreement’ has been finalized that will see cuts of 1 Billion Euro from the Government pay bill. The deal includes pay cuts for all staff, and up to 10% for top-earners, additional hours of work at no extra pay, and reductions in allowances and premium payments.

As many as nine Unions have already indicated that they will not support the new deal and are recommending that their membership reject it. The consequences of being outside of the new arrangements are likely to make for a very difficult situation for the Unions. It is very likely that the Government will unilaterally reduce the pay of those staff who do sign up to the deal, a step that will almost certainly cause strikes.

The Government seems to be playing hardball this time around. The new proposals actually provide for some compensation to public servants in two years time in certain situations, but only to those Unions that sign up to the deal. Those staff who opt out will not receive the agreed compensation. Divide and conqueror seems to be the tactic.

Similarly the deal provides for zero compulsory redundancies for those Unions that sign up – a huge concession given the current unemployment rate of over 14%. Those left outside the umbrella of the agreement however will have no such comfort and may see compulsory redundancies implemented, on top of compulsory pay cuts.

The divisions in the Unions are becoming apparent. The huge Impact Union that represents over 63,000 public servants has recommended that the deal be accepted. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation however is to recommend rejection of the deal to its 40,000 members. Similarly Teachers Unions have rejected the deal. Already a group representing Gardai, Nurses, Paramedics and Fire-Fighters, some 70,00 public servants, has been formed to co-ordinate its opposition to the deal.

The problem with the deal from a Union perspective is that it requires every public servant to take a pay cut. While this may seem reasonable in the case of a person earning over 65,000 euro per year it is a lot harder on lower paid civil and public servants, nurses and front-line staff, many of whom earn less than 30,000 euro annually.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is determined that the cuts to pay and conditions have to me made:

“Implementing these savings by agreement with public service staff would be another big step on the road to economic recovery, and would send out a signal to the world that the Irish people are determined to fix our economic problems and restore the country to prosperity and full employment.”

It is ‘Game On’ with division, public protest and strikes inevitable.

by Michael Green
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Irish Government Finally Issues Apology to Magdalene Survivors

The Irish Government response to the release of the Report into the extent of Irish State involvement in the now infamous ‘Magdalene Laundries was very poor indeed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny botched the response and unwittingly inflicted more stress and hardship on the victims. The easy and honorable thing to do would have been to immediately apologise to the victims of what were essentially State-Sponsored Labour camps.

Instead of apologising Enda Kenny decided that his Government needed more time to examine and consider the findings of the Report. Now, in respect of putting together a proper financial compensation package for the estimated 1000 still surviving women who were interred in these prisons, a considered approach is certainly appropriate. But quite why an immediate apology did not follow is a source of bafflement to just about everyone outside of the Taoiseach’s close circle of handlers and advisors and prompted severe media criticism.

The backlash had an effect. Enda Kenny finally stood up in Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament) and apologized to the women, some of whom were in attendance:

“Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt done to them, and any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry”

The Government has also established a fund to provide compensation for the victims of the 10 Magdalene Laundries. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticized the four religious orders who ran the Laundries and called on them to help provide compensation for the women.

The apology does not mark the end of the investigation into the running of the Laundries but it is a starting point and hopefully will provide some measure of, if not closure then at least acknowledgment, for the women who suffered so badly in these most terrible of places.

by Michael Green
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Debt Deal for Ireland: A Step in the Right Direction?

The Irish debt deal did not reduce the amount owed by the country. Ireland still owes in the region of 125BN Euro – a staggering figure that will take decades to pay off. The new debt deal merely allows part of the debt to be paid off over a longer term.

This is not necessarily a bad thing if you are able to ignore the immorality of it. By pushing the debt repayments down the road to the year 2053 the current Government has essentially lumbered today’s toddlers with the task of paying their parents debts. On the other hand, the breathing space that will be created by not having to pay as much as 2BN Euro annually over the next 10 years has given the current generation the opportunity to create jobs and growth to repair the damage sooner.

Under the deal the Central Bank of Ireland swapped high-yielding ‘Promissory Notes’ for longer-term Government Bonds. The original deal was to cost over 3BN Euro annually for the next 10 years. The new deal sees a reduction in the interest rate from 8% to 3% and stretches the loan out to 40 years. This reduces the borrowing requirement of the Government in the short term which it is hoped will free up funds for job creation.

The response in Ireland to the news of the deal has been broadly welcoming although those opposed to the whole concept of the Government bailing out the banks to begin with used the opportunity to demand that a write-down of Irish banking debt be sought immediately.

The Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition Government made the point that the European Central Bank has never agreed to debt write-down before so it would have been pointless to even negotiate on that basis. The more militant of those opposing the Government want to see an immediate default on the debt to force the issue with the ECB, EU and IMF.

This may yet happen.

The level of debt being carried by Irish citizens and small businesses is reaching catastrophic proportions. Although the economy of the country has stabilised it is still quite dreadful. Unemployment in Ireland is stuck at over 14%, Irish emigration is at pre-Famine levels and job creation is barely perceptible. The gamble by Fine Gael that they can soldier on in the hope that the economy recovers may backfire under an avalanche of personal debt and mortgage defaults. In such a scenario a massive default on the loans granted to us by our European ‘partners’ will become a question of ‘when’ and ‘how much’ rather than ‘if’.

Against this backdrop the much vaunted ‘Promissory Note’ deal may become just another footnote in this bizarre period of Irish history.

by Michael Green
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Magdalene Laundries Abuses To Be Made Public

The Report by the Committee that was established to investigate the role that the Irish Government played in the abuses perpetuated in the notorious ‘Magdalene Laundries’ is to be published.



In the decades that followed the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the Republic in 1948 the Catholic Church had tremendous influence in Ireland. It is only since the 1970’s that this influence has declined. Over the last two decades the litany of abuse carried out in institutions by religious orders and sponsored by the State has been graphically exposed. One such institution was the ‘Magdalene Laundry’ where young girls and women who had a child out of wedlock, or who were prostitutes, or who were even homeless, were basically interned.

The Laundries were state-sponsored workhouses. Although privately owned by religious orders they were subsidised by the Irish State for part of their existence. Thousands of women were forced to work in the Laundries which were run on a for-profit basis by several religious orders. The inmates were imbued with a sense of shame – their first names were changed and their surnames never used. They were often labelled as ‘Maggie’ by those of the public they encountered – a slang-word for a prostitute. It is both an amazing and damning fact that the final Laundry did not close until 1996. Located in Sean McDermott Street it is in the very heart of Dublin city centre.

The survivors of the Laundries – ‘Magdalene Survivors Together’ – have demanded that the Government finally issue an apology for the part it played in the abuse. The instigation of an appropriate compensation scheme is also the very least that can be done now. What compensation can their be for a life destroyed by these terrible places? Many did not even make it out the front gate. At least 988 women were buried within the grounds of the Laundries – likely many more died within the walls.

It is amazing that this new enquiry only took place after prompting from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2011. Perhaps now ‘Official Ireland’ will give these women some sense of justice.

RTE report highlighting the Magdalene survivors campaign:

The 2002 feature film ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ is available to view on YouTube:

by Michael Green
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Nurses Set To Claim Victory In Showdown With Government

The recent attempts by the Irish Government to recruit new nurses into the profession at 80% of the usual starting wage has backfired.



Nursing Unions have mounted a vocal campaign against the scheme which they regard as an insult to the work done by nursing staff on the front line of the health service. The Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) has been forced to extend the deadline for applications after interest in the jobs was reported as being very low. Should the HSE be forced to abandon the scheme all together it will be seen as a victory for the Unions whose members are increasingly being asked to work longer and harder for less and less pay.

Union leader Liam Doran was scathing of the HSE decision to extend the scheme:
‘The HSE decision also confirms that this was never an educational programme, nor an opportunity to consolidate learning, but was always an overt attempt to introduce cut-price, yellow-pack nursing posts into our health service.’

Under the Government proposals new nurses would earn 22,000 euro (approx 30,000 US$) compared to their colleagues who were recruited at 26,000 euro (approx 35,000 US$). The contracts were to last for only 2 years. The average industrial wage in Ireland in 2012 was just under 42,000 euro (57,000 US$) according to the Central Statistics Office.

By any measure these rates of pay would show nursing to be a very poorly paid job for highly trained graduates to take up in Ireland. Yet their work is crucial to just about every citizen of the country.

by Michael Green
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Irish Emigration At Highest Level Since The Famine

The tragedy of Irish emigration continues unabated. Over 46,500 Irish people emigrated from Ireland in the year up to April 2012. The rate of emigration is the highest in Ireland since the Great Famine in the middle of the nineteenth century.



The devastating recession and austerity measures being imposed in Ireland have made work very hard to come by. Unemployment remains above 14% in Ireland and at over 11% in the Eurozone. Little wonder then that so many Irish citizens are flocking to places like Canada, Australia and America.

More than half of the 6,350 working visas to Canada available to Irish people during 2013 have been taken up in the space of just a few days. Demand for the 2-year work-travel visas has been especially high as Canada is crying out for skilled workers in certain parts of the country. The high cost of living in Canada and particularly in the major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver has not put off the hordes of mostly younger Irish people who continue to escape from their recession-hit homeland.

by Michael Green
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Rate of Unemployment In Ireland Remains High At 14.6%

The rate of unemployment in Ireland remains stubbornly high within the 14% to 15% range. This bad news has in part been reduced by an increase in the rate of emigration.



The Central Statistics Office has announced that the number of people ‘signing on’ is just under 430,000, down just over 10,000 since the start of 2012. The figures could not mask the increase in the number of those considered to be ‘long-term’ unemployed. Nearly 190,000 of the total unemployed have been claiming benefits for over a year – a 3.3% increase over the year.

The Irish Central Bank estimates domestic growth of only 0.5% in 2013 with GDP growth of 1.3%, a reduction in previous estimates. These numbers do not encourage any belief that the rate of Irish unemployment will decrease any time soon, putting further strain on an Irish economy already struggling with a huge social welfare bill.

European unemployment continues to be a big issue with Spain at a massive 26%, Portugal at 16%, Italy at 11%, France at over 10%, the UK at under 8% and Germany at just under 7%.

source: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-08012013-BP/EN/3-08012013-BP-EN.PDF>

by Michael Green
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17th Century Pot of Gold Found in Foundations of Irish Pub

Ok there was no actual Pot but a hoard of 81 coins dating from the 1630’s to the early part of the 1700’s has been discovered by workmen at a County Tipperary Pub that had burned down some years ago.



The hoard includes guineas and half-guineas including 35 Charles II coins, 25 James II coins, 19 William III and two William III and Mary III coins. Cooneys’ pub in Carick-on-Suir was one of the oldest pubs in the County until it was destroyed by fire. The unlikely find by the workmen has been described as perhaps the most significant archeological find in the region since the Derrynaflan Chalice was discovered in nearby Killenaule in 1980.

According to Irish law all artifacts found in such a manner are the property of the State. The coins are likely to be displayed in the National Museum of Ireland for whom a spokesperson said:

No comparable 17th-century hoard of gold coins has been found in Ireland since the discovery in Portarlington, County Laois, around 1947, of a hoard that contained little over 100 gold coins as well as some silver coins,

It remains to be seen if the workmen or the pub-owner will receive any reward for the find.

by Michael Green
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Opinion Polls Confirm Labour Party Slide and Fianna Fail Gain

Two separate opinion polls have confirmed the recent rise in support for Fianna Fail and the continuing decline in the popularity of the Labour Party.

The left-wing Labour Party has been widely criticized by both its rank and file membership and by some of its own Parliamentary members for its conduct while in Government. The primary purpose of the Labour Party was to protect the most vulnerable and poorest sections of Irish society. Their association with the policies of the ruling Fine Gael Party is making a lie of that philosophy.

Already they have signed up to budget cuts and tax increases including the new Property Tax that the Party claims it had no choice but to agree to. Their difficulties are reflected in two recent polls that show the Party now trailing Sinn Fein in several key Dublin constituencies. The results of the two polls are shown below:

Labour Party 11% and 11% (19% in 2011 General Election)
Fianna Fail 24% and 21% (17% in 2011)
Fine Gael 26% and 28% (36% in 2011)
Sinn Fein 13% and 19% (10% in 2011)

The trend is very clear with Labour in decline, Fianna Fail improving, Sinn Fein improving but volatile and a big increase in the ‘worry factor’ for Fine Gael.

by Michael Green
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Irish Constitution to be Changed in Radical Shake-Up

A ‘Convention on the Constitution’ Committee is meeting to make several recommendations to the Government so that the Irish Constitution can be changed.



The Committee is made up of 66 members of the Irish public, chosen by random, with 33 politicians from various political parties and a chairman making up the 100 strong group. The first order of business they faced was whether to leave the voting age at 18 years or to lower it to 17 or 16 years. They may also vote on reducing the term of the Presidential office from 7 years to 5 years. As many as 8 constitutional amendments will be considered by the Convention including:

  • A review of the Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) voting system
  • Giving Irish residents outside of Ireland the right to vote in Presidential elections
  • An amendment relating to same-sex marriage
  • An amendment regarding the role of women in the home
  • An amendment increasing the participation of women in politics
  • An amendment to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution

Any actual changes to the Irish Constitution must be approved in a national referendum.

The work of the group represents a unique opportunity for the citizens of Ireland to have a real say in the most important of Irish legal documents. Unionist parties in Ulster were invited by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to participate in the work but declined. Sinn Fein and several other Ulster parties are represented however.

Recent opinion polls suggest that the Irish people are in favour of the abolition of the Seanad (lower house of Parliament), legalising same-sex marriage, and allowing Irish citizens abroad the right to vote in Presidential elections.

by Michael Green
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