All of a sudden while watching Mary Lou MacDonald on RTE’s Frontline last night, I started to wonder where Eddie Hobbs is these days? Mary Lou has raided the Hobbs library and is now reheating some of the classic Hobbs line. In 2009 Hobbs called for public service pay cuts and protection for those public sector workers earning incomes of €30,000 or less. Up north Sinn Fein has frozen public service pay for those on over €27K and is setting about public service pension reform in a manner that has Eddie smiling from ear to ear! To that effect there is a public service strike there tomorrow in protest against the DUP/Sinn Fein medicine. With extraordinary hard necks, Sinn Fein are looking their own striking public servants in the eye and saying we back you!
Sinn Fein is proposing a cap on all salaries in the public sector of €100,000 while it has little to say about salaries in the private sector. I’ve no problem with an incomes policy provided it includes all citizens and all incomes. So why shouldn’t investments, property, earnings on property be included? But there aren’t too many public servants earning over €100,000. I don’t for one minute think that the amount of money SF believe is there to be saved can be found, (€265M) Last spring Sinn Fein had an interesting footnote in their manifesto, they opposed the introduction of tax on the family farm. They’ve gone 1 step further in their 2012 pre-budget submission; excluding farmland, business assets and the first 205 of primary value of residences over €1m, retain state funding for minority faith private schools while not forgetting the old Milton Friedman line of making tax credits refundable. Sinn Fein used to stand for an Ireland of Equals, so how can they justify subsidising private minor faith boarding schools while Catholic ones are cut? Earlier this year there was the off the wall suggestion to deal with the cuts all in one go and to return to the bond market in 2012. This would have destroyed the social economy while being extremely attractive to speculators hoping to drive costs rock bottom. Tucked away in the SF 2011 GE manifesto was a nod to this logic with a pledge to return to the bond markets in 2012 providing a bank resolution mechanism was in place.
What scares the hell out of me and most people who rely on the public purse for an income is that most SF TD’s have never worked in the public service and do not seem to understand the ethos of a public service. It’s their type of logic that panders to the anti-public sector feeling that is growing in the country, fanned by right wing economists and opportunist TD’s. Up north while Sinn Fein support this week’s strike the reality is that in the words of their Education minister last September when he announced his plan to rationalise schools “Education is changing from this moment on”. The words and their meaning on the ground are moving in opposite economic tectonic plates in Sinn Fein up north. In the Ireland of equals it won’t be long till the thoughts and actions here match the northern mood music.
I don’t want to work in a public service that resembles New Zealand where less than 2% of the countries workforce are paid by the state. It wasn’t always that way in the country where their first Labour Prime Minister (2nd generation Irishman) devised the world’s first national health service but right wing governments have dominated New Zealand politics for 40 out of 50 years from 1949 onward with the resulting impact on public servants.
The flip side of what Eddie Hobbs said last year was that he felt confrontation had to happen and that industrial action on a par with the 1984 miners dispute by public sector workers would result. That’s one vision of where the intellectual analysis that is shared by Sinn Fein may well bring workers south of the border. In the meantime in the words of Ed Milliband I understand where the strikers are coming from in the North and in Britain.