Be weary of deals done in the wee hours

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Be weary of deals done in the wee hours

Patricia would love to know what Jim Larkin would have told us to do with our celebrations of the 1913 lock-out

I’M a great defender of public servants, having been there and done that in another life. Mind you, I was never a great public servant, being constantly irritated by officialdom and harbouring an unhealthy distaste of red tape on top of an unfathomable fear of the public - among whom were some undeniable assholes.

But I did my best, even when people were trying to get at me from behind a grill.

I’d still be there if I hadn’t looked out the window one sunny June day in 1970, after extricating myself from a particularly tiresome encounter with officialise and saw that whatever about the security and the pension, the faraway hills looked tantalizingly greener than ever. I applied for a job as a reporter with the local newspaper, got an interview from the editor who was then 82 years old, but who was still smart enough to ask me the one question I had fervently hoped would not come up.

“How’s your GAA knowledge?” he enquired casually.

“Dire,” I replied in a rare burst of honesty, that not only took him by surprise but, to my own utter amazement, induced him to give me the job.

“I don’t like bluffers,” he explained. “At least you’re honest.”

I blushed to the roots when I heard that because my shorthand skills weren’t anything as fast as the speeds I had claimed in my letter of application. I had tried practising with the radio news, but I couldn’t even keep up with Dev - although he had slowed down considerably by then. Anyhow I got the job and everyone, particularly my parents, thought I was mad to leave the public service for a job in the private sector. There was a suspicion in the wider family circle that I might have been fired. But that notion was quickly dismissed by somebody who reminded all and sundry, that no-one ever gets fired from the public service. Even I, apparently, couldn’t possibly, have accomplished such a feat.

The point is that even though I was not motivated by money and had gone into journalism to save the world like every other would-be crusader at the time, I was better paid in the private sector. No-one would believe me.

Little has changed since then I realised, when I read the reaction at the weekend to the latest public sector pay deal worked out in the “small hours of the morning” between the unions and Paschal Donoghue. As far as I can see the so- called deal is nothing more than a guarantee of continued grinding poverty for lower paid civil servants, as well as young teachers, nurses and guards. But media commentators see it differently. “The unions are set on mugging this country once again,” according to one bright spark.

I’m fully aware that this country is steeped in anti-trade sentiment since the lock-out of 1913, and to tell you the truth it made my blood boil when we celebrated the centenary of that momentous event four years ago as if we were, and always had been, champions of the working man. I’d dearly love to know what Jim Larkin would have told us to do with our 1913 celebrations, when we can’t even tolerate a bit of inconvenience caused by an official strike – not to talk of being able to stomach the idea of equality of pay for young teachers.

As I said, the latest pay deal was worked out in the early hours of the morning, and whether this was a sop to Leo Varakar’s ‘rise and shine’ philosophy or not, I don’t think anything should ever be worked out in the early hours of the morning. Someone should have warned the unions about the witching hour and how easy it is to fall under a spell in the darkest hour before the dawn. Either that or their coffee was spiked, because in the end they agreed to the deal.

But even that wasn’t good enough for the commentators. The unions, apparently, should have shown a bit of appreciation and come out cock-a-hoop at the deal, even though it was the early hours of the morning and they had obviously been doped. “There were no high- fives,” one union negotiator said dolefully, a statement that sent the private sector into a frenzy.

The deal, if it is to be accepted by union members is going to cost €887million over the next three years – which if you look at it dispassionately, is only a drop in the ocean compared to what the lumbering health service is going to cost. The really galling thing, however, is that while the lower paid will get a miserable thousand plus a year which will be heavily dented by tax, anyone earning over €185,000 already, will get a hearty €11,000. I hope they’re not going to call it the Lansdowne extension deal. It sounds more like the Grand Canyon to me, with the gap between the lower paid and the higher paid widening again. Yet Paschal insists that some lower paid public servants will be earning more than they did before the crash while the higher paid will never recoup the ‘totality’ of their losses. My heart goes out to them.

Now there are public servants and there are public servants, and never the twain shall meet – in terms of remuneration anyway.

Not for one minute would I equate the lot of a county manager, say, or a top HSE executive or a hospital consultant, or the secretary of a Government Department with that of a clerical assistant in the Social Welfare office.

So why then does everyone lump them all together to determine the average public sector pay and come up with the idiotic notion that all public servants are better paid than workers in the private sector some of whom are still on zero hours. I wasn’t in my day, and as I said, very little has changed since then.

It must be the new Project Maths that has us all bamboozled. If that’s the case, then we need to get back to learning our tables and taking more cognizance of the law of averages.