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Day of protest - Marching won’t rescue the economy

THIS afternoon workers will hold protest marches at eight centres around the country over the impact measures aimed at trying to stave off national bankruptcy might have on their incomes, working conditions and pensions. The threat of a 24-hour strike disrupting many public services on November 24 remains.

The vast majority of those protesting will be State employees, but this does not mean that private sector workers are not angry too, they just don’t have the option of walking off the job for an afternoon of Alice-in-Wonderland grandstanding.

They are, just like their colleagues in the public sector, increasingly angry. Very many are angry that they find themselves in jobs that are less than secure no matter what cuts to wages and benefits, as well as changes in work practices, are implemented.

They are angry that their pensions, built up over decades through full, market-rate contributions, have evaporated. They are angry that, for them at least, the notion of a viable early retirement is as likely as Ian Paisley becoming a Little Sisters of the Poor novitiate.

They are angry that such a great proportion of this country’s dwindling resources have been hijacked to rescue reckless bankers unfettered by comatose public sector regulators.

They are angry too that so many of the public sector pay scales have outstripped EU norms while so many of our public services remain barely fit for purpose.

Anger, though entirely justified, won’t bring home the bacon or defer the day of reckoning.

Neither will another long, tortuous series of negotiations snailing towards illusive but promised reform.

Neither will a restructuring of our debt, spread over three to five years, solve the crisis

As the OECD so clearly warned earlier this week, we have used up all our wriggle room and the time for the hardest of decisions has been reached.

In recent days Taoiseach Brian Cowen has reiterated what was until a short while ago unsayable: that social welfare payments cannot escape unscathed from spending cuts. He has insisted too that public sector pay cuts will be part of the solution. Privately very few people, even union leaders, dispute this, but unless there is a range of cuts, taking a higher percentage from the highest paid, protests will continue. This process must be as much about restoring sanity and a degree of social equity as it is about averting bankruptcy.

Today unions will rattle sabres and threaten all sorts of calamities if pay is cut but, just like the Grand Old Duke of York discovered when he marched his 10,000 men to the top of the hill and back down again, marching on a bracing November day might be good for the digestion but it does not change our reality. A reality so recognised by President McAleese yesterday morning when she pointed to voluntary savings at the Áras,

This country will be just as broke tomorrow morning as it is this morning and that will have to be confronted. Anyone who can count knows what that means, so let’s get on with it and try to rebuild this bruised, misused and ransomed country.

We can do it but the longer we wait the more painful it will be. However, the consequences of not doing, or even deferring it, are simply too awful to contemplate.