The leader of the country’s largest union, Siptu, took a swipe at the Government today blaming it for the near endless rises in the cost of living.
Jack O’Connor, the union’s president, said ultimately the policies from the last ten years were responsible for the 5% inflation now affecting ordinary workers.
Addressing the Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference in Bundoran, Co Donegal he praised those who had brought 15 years of unprecedented growth to the country.
But he warned accelerating interest rates and inflation threatened continued success.
“The authorities keep telling us that inflation is principally due to appreciating interest rates,” the Siptu chief said.
“That is true, up to a point, because of the weighting afforded to mortgage interest in the calculation of the CPI. But this is not because of interest rates per se, but rather because of the enormous loan burden imposed on ordinary citizens.”
Mr O’Connor there were two key problems brought about by government policies from the last ten years. He said there had been a failure to regulate the price of building land and an abysmally inadequate amount of social and affordable housing.
“So here we have a clear example of the consequences of allowing the market to have its way,” he said.
“Not only are tens of thousands of our citizens unjustifiably burdened with debt to purchase homes for their families, aggrandising property speculators and bankers in the process, but the process is jeopardising the competitiveness of the economy that advocates of the market are so addicted to promoting.”
Mr O’Connor said crucial decisions had to be taken to move away from over-dependence on construction and borrowing to upskilling the workforce and curbing greed of wealthy groups who threatened to undermine competitiveness.
He made the attack as he moved the Congress motion on the economy which highlighted how economic and social matters are linked.
Mr O’Connor also noted Ireland’s standing compared to other similar economies.
He said spending on third-level education was poor, in 2003 ranking 21st in Europe and in research and development in 2005 Ireland spent 1.3% of Gross Domestic Product three times less than Sweden.
“All of which takes us back to the perennial retort, ’But can we afford it?”’ he told delegates.
“Last year the Minister for Finance had a surplus of €9bn on current revenue over current expenditure. This year, notwithstanding a downturn in stamp duty, revenue will still be in the order of €7bn.
“The question delegates is: 'Can we afford not to spend it?' The reality is, as any objective analysis will bear out in economies like ours, equality is not just morally desirable, it is economically superior as well.”