Last week public sector workers in the north went on strike for one day against an effort by the British Tory Government to force them to pay more in pension contributions and to cut pensions.
Sinn Féin supported this action and these workers. There are also many other people without jobs or pension provision who are being attacked by the Tories.
And not just in the north. In the south we have our own little Tory government which is also inflicting inequality on citizens. This will be most evident next week when on Monday and Tuesday, our home grown Tories in Fine Gael and Labour will produce their first budget in government.
Government statements and a series of planned Ministerial leaks have already given us a good sense of its shape. In addition, to the embarrassment of the government the detail on a two per cent VAT rise was passed to the German Parliament two weeks ago. German Parliamentarians had the opportunity to scrutinise this proposed increase to be announced in the budget before the Dáil!
On Monday the budget to cut €2.2 billion from public services will be outlined. The following day it will be the new taxes to be introduced to raise €1.6 billion. The amount of hardship this will cause to families struggling to pay bills is significant.
The stupidity of this economic strategy will be evident next month when the government hands €1.2 billion of tax payers money over to unguaranteed bondholders in Anglo Irish bank. A move it is neither legally nor morally nor ethically obliged to do.
But the flaw at the heart of government policy was evident last week, even before the budget is unveiled, in its failure to tackle the issue of highflying pensions for former government Ministers, civil servants and judges.
On Tuesday this blog challenged the Taoiseach on this issue in the Dáil. Did you know that over 30 former ministers are paid more than €100,000 a year in pensions? But in addition they receive these pensions before they reach pension age and while they are still employed.
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen receives €151,061; the former Minister for Health Mary Harney, gets €129,805; former Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes, receives somewhere in the region of €150,000 as chairman of state-owned Anglo Irish Bank (now the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) and draws down a ministerial pension of €94,467.
The former Labour Party leader Dick Spring has a pension of €121,108. He receives this at the same time as a basic salary of €27,375 he gets from the partly state owned AIB on which he serves as a public interest director. He also gets €3,000 for every committee meeting he attends.
Talk about the boys looking after the boys!!!!!
I was therefore surprised when the Taoiseach responded saying that the government was also concerned by all of this and that Minister Howlin was going to come into the Dáil and announce changes.
However my surprise soon turned to disgust when I saw the half hearted measures the Government were prepared to take. The measures announced by the Minister served only to add insult to injury. Yet the same Minister will announce savage cuts to public services on Monday.
The cuts announced by the Labour minister were tokenistic. The measures will mean that former Minister Ray Burke, imprisoned for corruption, will lose €1 a day from his pension of €104,000 while former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen will still retain pensions of €147,000 a year.
In effect it was all a piece of political sleight of hand – a piece of media spin to give the appearance of responding to public outrage without actually doing very much. Speaking in the Dáil I described it in slightly more colourful language. I said to the Taoiseach: “Yesterday you promised an elephant and Minister Howlin farted and produced a mouse. It’s a disgrace.”
It beggars belief how a Government which claims it has no money for job creation, for hospitals, for children with special needs, for carers, for students, still has plenty of money to protect these political elites.
Given their election promises many citizens will be disappointed at the Fine Gael position but it is particularly shocking that this is being done by a Government which includes the Labour party.
The Labour party seems to have lost its way in Government. Labour TD’s were elected on a platform of political change, an end to cronyism and made firm commitments to the electorate that they would protect child benefit and oppose increases to student fees.
They have fully endorsed the failed policies of their predecessors in Government. Given the amount of policy U turns since the election I often wonder what the purpose of Labour remaining in this Government is. Considering the Budget that TD’s will be asked to vote on next week maybe some other Labour TD’s will ask themselves the same question.