It’s always refreshing to hear a politician speak plainly and spin-free. It’s refreshing because it happens so rarely in an Ireland now populated by Ministers who speak of “savings” rather than “cuts”.
Kilkenny TD John McGuinness has been heavily criticised by unions and the opposition following remarks he made in an address to the Beverage Council of Ireland’s annual conference on Friday last.
In his remarks, the Minister of State described the public sector in bluster-free language. The sector “is now so protected by its unions that it has largely become a reactionary, inert mass at the centre of our economy,” he said.
Minister McGuinness added that the current public sector culture “destroys ambition, resists change and is…insulated from reality”.
He continued: “It steals individuality, encourages arrogance, forces compliance to a culture, drains enthusiasm and denies the people, politicians and wealth creators of this country the benefits of a modern, high-powered, creative arm of the State that is vital to our continued success.”
Who among us hasn’t had the Civil Service exam dangled in front of us like a golden carrot during our days in career guidance class?
It has long been considered a route into a pensionable job from which forced removal rarely occurs and appears to be countenanced even less frequently by those with the power to wield an axe.
Public service incompetence isn’t readily reported to the ordinary citizen – nor will it be any time soon. There’s more chance of a politician uttering the phrase “I was wrong” so don’t hold your breath, folks.
That John McGuinness had the ‘temerity’ to speak in a manner which rings true to many of us has really got up the noses of some trade unionists.
The Civil, Public and Services Union described Minister McGuinness’s comments as “an outrageous attack” while SIPTU said the Minister should look at his own productivity and delivery levels before criticising anyone else.
And there, not just for John McGuinness but the Government entire, is where the nub of the issue also rests in my view: the performance of all public servants – politicians among them, requires urgent examination.
The Irish public sector culture, as a whole, is not one traditionally known for rooting out the incompetent, the lazy, the demotivated, the downright underperforming or the near corrupt.
The ongoing tribunals, as if we needed any reminder, underline that like a sick, expensive joke on the ordinary people of the country, of just how brutally we have been disserved by our politicians.
Other, far more widely read journalists than I have spouted in defence of the anything but ‘poor’ politicos, somehow beset by memory loss when addressed by a tribunal lawyer. Shame on them.
Their inquisitive energies would be far better served lambasting the suspect practices that spread epidemically through political life in this State for decades, some which of continue to threaten Bertie Ahern’s legacy and possible Áras ambitions.
Are there bad civil servants? Absolutely. Are there bad teachers? Certainly. Are there underperforming politicians? Damn right there are. It’s worth pointing out that there are bad fitters, dodgy mechanics and, dare I write it, near illiterate journalists out there too.
But, more often than not in the case of the latter trio, once word gets around about their bad work practices, they don’t get work and certainly don’t benefit from union membership, barring a grave injustice.
John McGuinness is a member of a Government which continues to talk about leading as opposed to actually leading.
That he decided to have a pop at a perceived wayward wing of the public sector while the Government looks increasingly devoid of direction was highly ill-advised.
For if timing is everything in politics, John McGuinness’s words, however true they rung, couldn’t have been delivered at a worse time.