The public purse - Talks on cuts take on a surreal air

WE had yesterday a very worrying glimpse of how some very powerful groups have not yet accepted the great and pressing challenges facing the viability of this society.

Neither have they, it appears, accepted that their expectations of how this society can reward them may have to be modified.

Speaking early yesterday, ahead of last night’s Cabinet meeting to review public expenditure and the future of a number of quangos, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte set the scene.

He reiterated that unless the Croke Park process can very quickly produce real savings to the public purse the Government will have to, however reluctantly, impose further pay cuts on public servants. This would be terribly regrettable, bitterly divisive and probably lead to a period of massive industrial unrest, but the country is broke and something has to give.

As Mr Rabbitte fired a gentle enough warning shot across the Croke Park bows, one that could not have been unexpected and one far more polite than one the IMF might discharge, the Garda Representative Association’s delegates were gathering in Westport, Co Mayo, for their annual conference.

One of the motions before the conference, sponsored by its Kerry branch, is “that Conference demands that an additional six days’ annual leave be granted in lieu of pay cuts suffered by our members”.

The rationale behind this motion is so out of touch with Ireland 2011 as to suggest that those who submitted it to the conference need a few moments in a quiet room to gather their thoughts before someone explains the implications of a bankrupt exchequer to them.

It suggests that at least one GRA branch is living in cloud cuckoo land, and if the motion is passed or even taken seriously then the reputation of the force, already in the spotlight over the Mayo rape calamity, will take another unnecessary battering.

Though the Kerry motion is the epitome of greed and entirely inappropriate, and even if it is passed it has no chance of being implemented, it may not be too hard to see why those who promoted it feel entitled to do so. We learned yesterday that senators were paid more than €158,000 in expenses for the month of February even though the Seanad did not sit.

In all, 57 members of the Upper House shared €158,677.06 in vouched or unvouched allowances. That’s more or less €3,000 each in expenses while the house was at rest between regimes. This would have been outrageous even in boom times, but today it is just immoral. Is it any wonder that the Kerry GRA members want to get their snout in the trough too?

This is precisely the kind of abuse and delusion the Government will have to confront if it is to have the moral authority and public support it will need to try to bridge the gap between our income and our expenditure. This would be a daunting task at the best of times but set against the backdrop of yesterday’s revelations about Seanad expenses and GRA hopes on extra holidays it assumes an air of the surreal.

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