Forgetting about the people’s needs

Mr Howlin 'tried to take €3,000 out of the pocket of the vast majority of nurses and midwives'. Picture: Laura Hutton

Irish workers are not paying their fair share of the debt — they’ve been lumped with the lot, as banks, politiciansand others remain untouched, writes Dave Hughes

WELL Frankfurt’s way is Labour’s way. And Leo Varadkar’s “not a cent more” to Anglo Irish Bank turned into a €34bn bill.

Despite all the posturing, all bondholders have been paid, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny proudly announcing after his election that Ireland would pay every red cent of its debt. But nothing shows the extent to which banks are running Ireland and Europe more than the recently published Personal Insolvency guidelines.

The banks were recapitalised and their bad loans were taken from them into the hands of Nama, which is paid for by workers and other taxpayers. They received further recapitalisation funds in respect of anticipated mortgage defaults of up to 30% of mortgage holders and there is no significant evidence that they have accepted a write-down of any mortgages as a result.

Instead the banks, and their highly-paid executives, have skilfully managed to shift the burden of their debt onto the State and the general public. They have avoided the impact of austerity which has largely fallen on those who are dependent on welfare and public servants.

However, their biggest coup of all was the hard ball they played with the Government which now allows them dictate the level of penury imposed on a generation whom they, the politicians and the developers, convinced to incur debt on the basis of “you must get onto the property ladder”.

It was government, fully aided and abetted by the opposition politicians of the day, who allowed land prices escalate — allowing the price of houses rise to the point where the cost of production bore no resemblance to the sale value.

The current Government has now created a “PIP” — Personal Insolvency Provider whom, they say, will advocate on behalf of the debtor (mortgage holder) against the big bad banks.

The reality of this is that they have created a middle man who will charge the debtor for any assistance provided and who, in the way of these things, will ultimately become practitioners or businesses that have a more familiar relationship with the banks than any individual client whom they deal with.

Criminals facing the court are entitled to free legal aid but unfortunate mortgage holders, the victims of an overheated economy for which they hold no responsibility, will have to pay for their representation in the insolvency process.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) two years ago successfully promoted a resolution to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which would have sought a fairer resolution for the generation of mortgage holders whose principal private residence was overvalued to the extent that they are now in negative equity.

The motion sought, among other things, that the capital amount would be written down to the current value of the principal private residence, very similar to the scheme which has operated successfully in Iceland.

The Icelandic government was prepared to force their banks to carry their share of the burden of their reckless lending. Although passed at the ICTU conference and adopted as policy of ICTU, it never featured in any pre-budget submission or economic analysis presented by ICTU.

Alas, we have also become used to the idea that the first casualty nowadays of politics is the truth. You can almost be guaranteed that if a government minister or spokesperson says something is fair it will be inherently unfair.

Such was the case with the proposals promoted under the Croke Park extension which, when reviewed independently by an equality expert, were deemed to be discriminatory and inequitable.

Likewise, the sight of two government ministers promoting the notion of tax concessions at the same time as Mr Howlin was trying to take €3,000 out of the pocket of the vast majority of nurses and midwives is yet another example that nothing has changed in spite of the huge promise that we would never return to auction politics.

The insolvency debacle and the mortgage problem, which is still the biggest problem facing citizens in Ireland, along with the sustained attack on public service workers, are huge disappointments to anybody who voted for new politics when they voted in this Government.

Regrettably this Government, to an even greater extent than its predecessors, has debased politics and further alienated working people and those who contribute most in our society.

The recent massive rejection of the Croke Park extension proposals was the first opportunity that any significant body of people outside of the election got the opportunity to say no.

The resounding “no” by approximately 70% of the entire public service should not be ignored and if it is, then the time has surely come for a full confrontation with politicians who ignore the people and believe that they know better.

- Dave Hughes is deputy general secretary of Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation


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