PRIVATE vested interests are intent on destroying the gains made by trade unions, IMPACT president Stephen Lyons told the union’s biennial conference in Killarney last night.
He warned that public servants and their trade unions were coming under “sustained attack from vested interests that want to cut back, privatise and profit from public services”.
Mr Lyons said: “This is a powerful constituency that wants to take away the protection we give to ordinary workers and their families. It is the voice of vested interests that care little for public services and, instead, want to cut back, privatise, and profit from public services.”
In his opening address to 600 delegates at the three-day conference, he deferred from addressing the crisis in social partnership negotiations — a topic expected to dominate proceedings in the coming days.
Instead, as president of the country’s largest public service union, with more than 55,000 members, Mr Lyons paid particular attention to healthcare, which he said received an unjustified portrayal as being sub-standard or of Third World standards.
Such a view was an insult to Irish health workers and their counterparts in the developing world, he said, adding that public servants shouldn’t be cowed into accepting that public services are substandard.
“I am certainly sick of hearing that we have Third World health and public services. It’s an insult to people here, who are working hard to deliver in the most difficult circumstances. It’s even more of an insult to those in the developing world who have to deal with problems on a scale unimaginable to us,” he said.
“Public servants can be proud of their role in providing services to the Irish nation and its citizens. Of course the services are not perfect. Of course, we need always to improve and see how things can be done better. But we won’t accept the mantra of ‘private good, public bad’ and we should not be cowed into accepting that the services we provide are, by definition, substandard.”
Mr Lyons also praised the contribution of migrant workers to Irish society and called for a renewed drive to increase union membership.
He described the challenge of growing membership as the “biggest challenge facing the trade union movement, which will go into decline if we do not embrace it”.
However, the continuing difficult impasse in negotiations on a new national wage deal will dominate the remainder of the conference beginning with today’s keynote address by IMPACT general secretary and Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) president Peter McLoone.