It looks like the challenges are continuing to mount for the minority Government, with public sector unions toughening their approach following the deals brokered with the Gardaí and transport workers.
We always felt that this centenary year would awaken some revolt and we are certainly seeing that in terms of industrial relations.
Now the unions want to see a new negotiation soon on restoring pay cuts from next year, which is a year ahead of schedule on the previous agreement.
There was an interesting debate on the weekend about how the big losers of our Great Recession were not necessarily the public sector via their pay cuts, but those that lost jobs, had to emigrate or lost a business and could not claim any social welfare.
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, made the point that the self employed, who are out of work, can now claim (on a means tested basis) and can also make pension contributions.
Let’s face facts. The economy is only barely recovering. There is not really that much money to spread around and already we are seeing some businesses lose jobs due to the weak UK Pound, catalysed by Brexit.
Some Irish firms may need to move to the UK for lower costs and also get a better tax rate.
Much change lies ahead and even further uncertainty. Added to that, the danger of American firms being enticed back home by the Trump Administration represents another ‘known unknown’.
Conceding major pay demands, to be stumped up by the taxpayer will only land us in further trouble. Tax rises are inevitable if these pay demands are met, and there’s no escaping that.
How can the Government add more money to pensions in such circumstances? Will social welfare be frozen and will less money be invested in health and education? Surely this cannot aid the ongoing and tentative recovery?
WIT, as we have highlighted, is in serious financial trouble. How will they fare in the pay debate if investment is cut to pay to facilitate higher pay? And how can University Hospital Waterford provide better services in such circumstances?
We would all like to go back to 2008: certainly in the newspaper sector it would be nice to turn the clock back, but change has come our way, and it’s not been positive.
A tougher approach may be needed and realities need to spelled out. Minister Varadkar is offering a pragmatic assessment of the current picture, but one has to wonder if Taoiseach Enda Kenny is the leader to guide us through such troubled waters.
Perhaps, he ought to address the nation and outline the extent of our problems before things grow even more serious? A bigger debate is certainly required, and we need that debate without haste.