Bloated Bertie and fat-cat officials fuel the teachers’ sense of grievance

LISTENING to some of the teachers and the union representatives moaning during the week one could be tempted to suggest that what we need is to bring back corporal punishment and flog those teachers.

Everyone in the country — public service and private sector — is going to have to take a cut. It is particularly disconcerting to hear teachers proclaiming they are basically going to resist reality.

“Teachers’ salaries each year cost the taxpayer €4 billion,” so Edward Walsh, former president of the University of Limerick, seemed to think it would be a good thing if teachers went on strike for a year, as this would save the economy €4 billion. He accused the teachers of “behaving like spoiled children”.

Teachers certainly enjoyed large increases in recent years thanks to benchmarking and other pay agreements. The rest of the public are paying for all of this. Benchmarking increases were supposed to bring the pay of teachers to the same level as the private sector.

Now we have a reverse situation in which the private sector is lagging behind the public service. One way of dealing with this would be to raise all salaries in the private sector. This would seem to be the kind of logic being espoused by the unions.

If people in the private sector got the increases they should be entitled to, then that sector would be virtually closed down. Who would then pay the taxes to fund the public sector?

As it stands, the Government is not collecting nearly enough in taxes to fund day-to-day spending and throwing more people out of work would only make matters worse. Fewer people would be paying taxes and more would be drawing unemployment assistance. Teachers who do not see that reality are not fit to teach anyone.

Teacher unions are talking tough, but that is just a dangerous bluff. They know that if push comes to shove, too many of their members are women who are not going to go along with this brainless bluster. Maybe Ed Walsh thinks it would be a good thing if the teachers went on strike, but few of the women — especially the married women — are likely to agree with him.

In fairness, it should be stressed that the teachers and others have a genuine grievance when their pay is cut by 5%, while the pay of 600 of the higher paid civil servants earning up to €146,000 annually is only cut by 3%. This is grossly unfair.

On the Late Late Show last week Ryan Tubridy had a panel discussion about the public anger that clearly exists at the moment. It is largely directed at the bankers, speculators, politicians and even the clergy.

When The Star newspaper suggested recently that a couple of the bankers were bastards who deserved to be shot, it was clearly over the top. The editor, Ger Colleran, indicated it was only a figure of speech. The newspaper was not actually advocating that anybody should be shot, but it was reflecting public anger.

Reaction to the headline was an eye-opener for Ryan Tubridy. Most of the calls to his radio programme approved of it. In the circumstances Tubridy wondered why people had not taken to the streets like the French have been doing over the centuries.

When Brian Lenihan first tried to tackle the financial crisis by cutting back on the medical cards, the elderly took to the streets and the Government quickly backed off. People may be upset about government cuts, but we are still living well beyond our means. We need a dose of reality.

More than 100,000 Polish people have apparently returned home and many thousands of young Irish people have begun leaving the country again, especially for Canada and Australia.

On last Friday’s Late Late Show, Kevin Myers suggested that our children and grandchildren, and even their children, would end up paying for the current debacle. Matt Cooper expressed the fear that when his five children grow up there will be nothing left for them in this country, because it will be wrecked and bankrupted.

There is a growing, palpable anger at politicians and a very real danger that disillusioned young people could take to the streets. Older people will remember how what amounted to recreational violence got out of control in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The unrest began with civil rights marches. The demands were reasonable, but the hotheads took over and passion consumed reason.

The Government seemed to have no problem coming up with a rescue package for the bankers and speculators who caused the current problems, but there seems to be no thought about rescuing mortgage-holders who were enticed into buying homes at exorbitant prices. Surely something should at least be done to help those in difficulties by lowering their payments by extending them over longer periods.

When Brian Lenihan was delivering his Dáil address on the NAMA details, Bertie Ahern walked out of the chamber. He had been there for a whole 12 minutes. He apparently has more to do with his time.

Bertie has become the personification of the lousy leadership and reckless gambling that has got the country into this mess. Yet he behaves as if he is totally oblivious to the damage he has done.

“A majority of people may think the government is doing a good job,” I wrote in this column on December 22, 1999, “but in reality this is probably the worst government we have had since the GUBU administration of 1982, which was the worst government in the history of the state.”

AHERN inherited the boom, but instead of developing it, he squandered it and essentially plundered the country. Currently he enjoys a pension of €111,235, on top of his Dáil salary of €92,672. He also has a car and a state driver, which cost a further €175,635 last year.

The Dáil debates for 2009 cover 26 volumes, but going through the index for each of them, I could not find Ahern’s name for having said a word in the Dáil in the whole year. That was some value for €379,542. Is it any wonder that we are on Queer Street economically?

Of course, Ahern had other things to do, such as speaking engagements and promoting his memoirs. He earned €146,000 for just five speeches organised by the Washington Speakers Bureau. He was reportedly paid an advance of €100,000 for his memoirs. He would have had to pay about €52,000 of that in income tax, but he was given the writers’ and artists’ tax exemption. For what? Richard Aldous wrote the book for him.

In April 2009, the FAI had Ahern as its guest at Ireland’s World Cup match against Italy in Bari. I wonder if they also had a “dig out” for poor Bertie?

Somebody has to pay for such extravagance and for the plundering in which his government colleagues and the likes of the FÁS executives were engaged. In the circumstances it is little wonder that the teachers and so many others are annoyed to the point of distraction.

The republic has been shamelessly betrayed and we need real leadership for a change.

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